Skip to main content

Full text of "Hitlers Generals"

See other formats


By the same author 

LANDMARKS OF MODERN STRATEGY (Methueri) 



W. E. HART 



Hitlers 
GENER3LJ5 



LONDON 
THE CRESSET PRESS 

1944 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT 

The author is indebted to Mr. W. Scott 
for indispensable a id in bringing this book to completion 



First published March 1944 by 

the Cresset Press Ltd 1 1 Fitzroy Square, London W\ 

printed hy the Slienval Press, London and Hertford 

This book is produced in conformity with the authorised economy standards 



Contents 



Colonel General Baron Werner von Fritsch page 1 

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt 40 

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel 66 

Field Marshal Erhard Milch 86 

Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch 101 

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 131 

Field Marshal Fedor von Bock 138 

Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz 164 

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder 173 



TO JEAN ROTHWELL 



Colonel Qeneral 
Baron Vfevnev von Fritsch 

He who sups with the devil needs a 
long spoon. OLD ENGLISH PROVERB 

Von Fritsch, typical of his class, was of medium height, 
heavily built, square-faced and always wore a monocle. 
Although his intelligence was undoubted and his energy 
untiring, he was too consciously arrogant to be impressive. He 
lacked that imagination and foresight which might have enabled 
him to avoid his violent though not ignoble end. 

To those under his command he was frigid and remote in his 
superiority, and before N.C.O.s and men he never relaxed the 
dignity of his rank and position for a moment. To civilians he 
adopted two methods of approach. If a man was of no use to him 
then he was of less significance than the humblest private: the 
very presence of such a complete nonentity in the scheme of 
things was an annoyance to him. The private, the N.C.O. and the 
junior officer, though without interest to him as individuals, were 
at least units in the great military machine which bound him and 
them together. The civilian was always beyond the pale. 

But to the man he wished to make use of, von Fritsch was at 
once the grandseigneur. To him this was diplomacy, and when it 
seemed worth while to play the part he could say : 'We are all 
gentlemen, after all. Now let's talk to each other like that.' Of 
course, as a Prussian general (or, as one might have thought from 
his manner, a demigod among mortals), he could hardly be 
friendly ; but he could stoop so far as to be benevolent, and his 
tricks when in this mood soon grew familiar to those who had 
dealings with him. 

He could expose a human side of himself by pretending to have 
been 'a naughty boy' not without some foundation and he 
could be confidential, too, and relate little anecdotes that were not 
fit for the drawing-room, believing that he was thus creating an at- 
mosphere of trust without himself giving anything away. This done, 



VON FRITSCH 

he would then reveal his original motive, and the man who had 
been 'taken into his confidence' was expected to tell all he knew or 
to do whatever was wanted of him. To von Fritsch this kind of 
thing was 'trying one's charm on somebody'. 

But if the victim was neither overawed nor dazzled, as could 
happen occasionally, even in Germany, then all vestige of dignity 
disappeared and common rudeness took its place. That, however, 
was very rare, for the German, unlike the Englishman, is brought 
up to stand in dread of his superiors. 

Werner von Fritsch was born on the 4th August 1880, at 
Benrath in the district of Dusseldorf in the Rhineland, a son of the 
retired Lieut.-General Baron Gcorg von Fritsch and his wife 
Adelheid (nee von Bodelschwingh). The father's pension allowed 
the boy a good education at the grammar schools at Dusseldorf, 
Posen and Hanau. His mother's family were pillars of the Evan- 
gelical Church in Germany; they were philanthropists, and had 
founded a home for cripples and epileptics that was known all 
over the country; and their influence was certainly a powerful 
element in the moulding of the young man's character. 

Religious education at that time was commonly part of the 
curriculum of any cadet who intended becoming an officer in the 
Imperial German Army, but contact with the Church was often 
not much more than a matter of good form. With Werner von 
Fritsch this side of his education went deeper, and later on was to 
dictate his conduct at critical moments of his career. 

On 21st September 1898, he joined the Grand-Ducal Hessian 
Field Artillery Regiment No. 25 at Darmstadt. The elder von 
Fritsch, who was a nobleman of standing, had commanded the 
aristocratic 15th Cavalry Brigade, and the family was substantial 
financially, so that Werner could have entered any crack Guards 
regiment of the Imperial German Army. But he preferred an 
artillery regiment, thus taking almost the only opportunity inside 
the German Army of that time of acquiring technical knowledge. 
During the latter years of the nineteenth century there had been 
rapid development of the artillery arm. 

By 1900 he was a second lieutenant, nine years later a full 
lieutenant. But he had caught the attention of his regimental chief 
in 1907, and in the autumn of that year was transferred to the 

8 



VON FRITSCH 

He was becoming increasingly conscious of the political influences 
that governed the general direction of the German armed forces 
at their headquarters and which impinged on the mind of every 
ambitious officer. He had gained a deep inside knowledge of many 
of the larger aims of the German Government, the Supreme Com- 
mand and the General Staff; and throughout the war while a 
General Staff officer he had found a most able coach in Colonel 
Max Bauer, known in General Staff circles as 'the shadow behind 
Ludendorff'. Bauer, like von Fritsch, was an artillery specialist, 
professionally concerned with the technical development of the 
army, but his interests went beyond that. He headed many con- 
ferences on war economy, showed von Fritsch -how to handle 
politicians; and later, during his career in the Reichswehr, von 
Fritsch was to speak of him as his teacher in matters other than 
strategy. 

At the conclusion of the Armistice von Fritsch joined the 4th 
Reserve Corps, which, under the command of General Count 
Riidiger von der Goltz, carried on the war in the Baltic provinces. 
He became Chief of the General Staff of the Corps, which was 
made up from remnants of the elite of the old Imperial Army. 
The operations carried out by von der Goltz would have been 
impossible without the collaboration of the Socialist War Minister 
of the Republic, Noske an association between an aristocratic 
general and a former Socialist firebrand which von Fritsch would 
have thought out of the question until a few months earlier and 
he was not long in forming the opinion that there was hope for 
the re-establishment of a limited armed national force. At many 
conferences between Noske's emissaries and the leaders of the 
4th Reserve Corps he saw in practice how even a Left minister put 
the interests of the army before his professed political principles. 

The Inter- Allied Commission in the Baltic States, headed by 
the French General Niessel, put an end to the semi-private, semi- 
official existence of the Corps. Niessel met von Fritsch, and in 
his book* he describes a meeting between the Staff of the 4th 
Reserve Corps, then under the command of General von Eber- 
hardt, who was Commander-in-Chief of the 7th Army during the 
World War, and the Allied Commission. 

* V Evacuation des Pays Baltique par les Allemands Contribution a I 'etude 
de la mentaliie Allcnmnde. (Ed. Charles Lavanzelles, Paris, Limoges, Nancy, 
1935). 

10 



VON FRITSCH 

General Niessel writes : 'His Chief of Staff, Major von Fritsch, 
is young, arrogant and extremely self-confident. It seems he has 
no qualms about playing a hide-and-seek game with truth or 
evading uncomfortable questions and misleading the Allied 
Commission. He has all the professional advantages and all the 
faults of character of the Prussian General Staff officer, who fre- 
quently considers himself superior and rightly too to the 
ordinary mortal.' Niessel further complains that certain figures 
of the strength of the Corps were proved false, and had no hesita- 
tion in saying so at one of the meetings held. 

Service in the 4th Reserve Corps in the Baltic provinces did not 
as a rule mean advancement for its officers because it was not a 
military body which was fully recognised officially in Germany. 
Nevertheless von Fritsch's services were rewarded by a transfer 
of short duration to the Reserve Group Command No. 3, and in 
1920 he began the two years' task of building up the organisation 
of the comparatively new Rcichswehr Ministry. 

Here he had his first contact with the Commander-in-Chief of 
the young Reichswehr, General Hans von Seeckt, who was im- 
pressed by his wide knowledge and resourcefulness and with his 
patience and unswerving concentration. In 1922 he received his 
first full command and took over the 2nd Battery of the Artillery 
Regiment No. 5 in Ulm in Bavaria. He was gazetted a lieutenant- 
colonel in February 1923, but his patent dated back from the 
15th November 1922, a ruse contrived by his friends in the Reichs- 
wehr Ministry to enable him to meet debts incurred by his 
lavish way of living in Berlin. 

Transferred for several years to the 1st Division in Konigsbcrg 
in East Prussia as Chief of Staff, von Fritsch studied the military 
questions of eastern Germany as created by the new frontier line 
with Poland, not, we may suppose, without some thought for the 
future. From this staff appointment he returned in 1927 to the 
Reichswehr Ministry as colonel and 'departmental chief. Actually 
he joined the camouflaged General Staff of the Reichswehr, which 
was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles. He worked under the 
direction of another General Staff officer, von Blomberg, but von 
Blomberg was not a man of energetic mind, his character having 
perhaps more charm than strength, and von Fritsch in effect re- 
placed him. 

11 



VON FRITSCH 

On taking up this office he inherited a number of difficulties 
calling for solution. Questions had been raised in the Reichstag by 
Socialist and Democratic deputies who were not satisfied with the 
reports given them by the Rcichswehr Minister, Dr. Gessler, re- 
garding the budget estimates for the Army and Navy. In February 
1926 Stiicklen, Socialist Deputy and reporter for the Budget 
Committee of the Reichstag on Army and Navy estimates, put 
forward these questions: 

(1) Why has the budget increased by 30 million marks though 
the number of men and the strength of the Rcichswehr remain the 
same? 

(2) Why has an army of 100,000 men to be scattered over 127 
garrisons? 

(3) Why does the Reichswehr still list 40,212 horses, though 
only 10,000 men belong to cavalry regiments? 

(4) Why are funds 'transferable"? (48 per cent of the 1927 
budget for the Army and Navy was 'transferable', that is, able to 
be transferred from one branch of the army to another at the 
discretion of the army command.) 

(5) Why does the Reichswehr Ministiy- which has never 
shown any signs of economy refuse to enlist the services of a 
political under-secretary? (Stlickien himself gave the answer to 
this: because it relieves the generals of the compulsion of a super- 
visor, and without such an officer the entire Reichswehr is relieved 
of compulsion to answer any uncomfortable political questions.) 

But Stiicklen went further than this. Ho confronted the Reichs- 
wehr Ministry with concrete facts showing that the General 
StafT Officers in the Ministry had completely disregarded their 
obligations to the Government and were consistently lying to the 
representatives of the German Republic. He used information 
that in a rough form had been published by the Silesian news- 
paper Breslauer yolkswacht, a Socialist organ that represented 
the views of the President (the Speaker) of the Reichstag, Loebe. 
Stiicklen had investigated an accusation made by this paper and 
found out that, contrary to the restrictions of the Treaty of 
Versailles and officially unrecognised by the Reichswehr, there 
existed forty 'district officers' in Lower Silesia who had been 
ordered to push forward illegal recruiting for reserves for the 
armed forces. A complete training centre existed for these illegal 

12 



VON FRITSCH 

formations at Neuhammer. These officers had come straight from 
the nationalist organisation, the Stahlhelm^ but had resigned their 
membership as soon as they took up their duties in the Reichs- 
wehr. In the town of Brieg, for example, an officer had re- 
signed from the Stahlhelm twenty-four hours after his appoint- 
ment; in Wohlau a captain, though he officially retained no con- 
nection with the Stahlhelm, attended the evening rallies of the 
local groups and asked for recruits ; and in Licgnitz an officer had 
told the recruits that every Silesian German had to be prepared 
for Polish aggression. 

Stiicklcn further stated in his confidential memorandum that 
although the employers' association of Silesia had given large 
funds to these officers, money had been transferred from the 
Reichswehr to the Lower Silesian district for the same purpose. 

At the same time the Democratic deputy Baron Hartmann von 
Richthofen had put equally disturbing questions before the 
Reichswehr Minister about the composition of the Officers Corps 
of the Reichswehr, querying the stability of the corps and its 
attitude towards the Republican constitution. Baron von Richt- 
hofen knew the attitude of the Prussian nobleman well, for he 
had moved in that circle before he became a Democratic deputy. 
The figures which he put forward were eloquent : 

of 595 cavalry officers 265 were nobles 

of 724 Reichswehr Ministry officers 162 

of 1,512 infantry officers 265 

of 589 artillery officers 61 

The total proportion of nobles among the officers of the entire 
Reichswehr was 20 per cent. In the higher ranks the proportion 
was even greater: 

of 42 generals 25 were nobles 

of 105 colonels 45 ,, 

Baron von Richthofen added that for nearly ten thousand mem- 
bers of the Reichswehr there were nearly a thousand officers, 
nearly three hundred warrant officers and three to four thousand 
petty officers, and the obvious discrepancy between the number of 
officers and N.C.O.'s needed for ten thousand men, and the actual 
figures, were also violently criticised by him. 

Creuzburg, another deputy, completed the indictment by com- 
paring the monies spent on the upkeep of the old Imperial General 

13 



VON FRITSCH 

Staff of 1913 and on the 1927 Army Command of the Reichswehr. 
The old Imperial General Staff was able to administer and direct 
the vast organisation of the active peace-time army and its reserve 
formations with a staff of 619 officers at a cost of the equivalent 
of 240,000. For an army for which it claimed to have no re- 
serves and only a peace-time strength of 100,000 the Reichswehr 
Ministry and the office of the C.-in-C. needed 922 staff officers 
and spent nearly half a million pounds! 

The entire Reichswehr Ministry was left gasping. The former 
Commander-in-Chief, Colonel General Hans von Seeckt, who 
had been dismissed because he had permitted members of the 
House of Hohenzollern to attend two manoeuvres of the Reichs- 
wehr, had dreaded the exposure which he long felt hanging over 
him. The new Commander-in-Chief, Colonel General Wilhelm 
Hcye, was completely at a loss. He could neither answer the 
charges nor defend himself and his officers, nor was he subse- 
quently able to supply the responsible minister with material upon 
which a defence could be based. 

Here von Fritsch showed what a soldier-politician he had 
become. He did not shrink from personally canvassing his critics, 
treating them to a familiar mixture of cajolery and admonition, 
reminding them of their eternal and unceasing duty towards the 
Fatherland. He neglected no means that might justify his mili- 
tarist purpose. Strings were pulled right and left. Social pressure, 
warnings against too outspoken criticism of the army, the pat- 
riotic appeal that so confuses the German democrat, all were 
brought to bear, with the final result that the Army and Navy 
budget was passed. The reductions forced upon the Reichswehr 
administration were farcical : 225,000 for the Army and 1 12,000 
for the Navy. 

Now Colonel von Fritsch was able to continue the task which 
he himself described as the 'heritage of von Seeckt'. This heritage 
consisted of plans based on the most efficient use of the reduced 
armed forces of the German Reich in the event of war. He worked 
on plans that provided for an offensive in the east and a tempor- 
ary defensive in the west. The plan for Poland, which originated 
almost entirely with him, was ready by 1928. 

Under this scheme heavy attacks on the Polish army were to 
cause the collapse of the country. The first blow was to be concen- 

14 



VON FRITSCH 

trated in the area of Deutsch-Krone-Schneidemuhl-Frankfurt-an- 
der-Oder. The immediate aim was to cut the vital railway Gdynia- 
Kattowitz and so paralyse the great chain of communications upon 
which the Polish army would depend in its advance. German 
concentrations were to be protected in the north by weak cavalry, 
and in the immediate south by weak motorised formations. A 
second blow was to be delivered simultaneously from the East 
Prussian sectors of Deutsch-Ey lau- M ar ien werder-Rosenberg, 
reaching deep into Poland and joining the first assault group in the 
area of Graudenz-Thorn. Speed was essential for the movement 
of both groups, and von Fritsch hoped that the strong Polish 
Pomerelle army would be cut off and exposed to annihilation. If 
sufficient forces were still available a third, though weaker, assault 
group could deploy from Silesia in the sector of Kreuzburg, and 
strike through Petrikau against Lodz. The detailed timing given 
to the divisions employed showed that von Fritsch demanded a 
maximum of speed in order to strike before the full power of the 
Polish regular and reserve armies could be brought to bear in 
defence. With little essential change this was the plan executed in 
1939. 

Von Fritsch meant to fight defensively in the west and to leave 
western Germany without any cover except for weak forces 
stationed along the lower Weser and in southern Saxony. After 
the conclusion of his Polish campaign he intended to force the 
Reich Government to offer peace terms to France, promising the 
reinstatement of the Polish State, the evacuation of Poland by the 
German army, and permission for the re-establishment of a 
limited Polish army. The peace would also provide for a with- 
drawal of French troops, and in return Germany was to be allowed 
a peace-time armed strength of its own choice. 

In his plan von Fritsch used material provided by General 
Wetzell, who in the First World War had been Chief of Opera- 
tions under Ludendorff and had held a similar position in the 
Reichswehr. Wetzell had some original ideas of his own, but these 
were discarded by von Fritsch who had no difficulty with Wetzell's 
successor in the Reichswehr, Werner von Blomberg. 

There was criticism of the plan by General Staff officers inside 
the Reichswehr, who pointed out that the author had only a 
limited field experience and knew little about the handling of 

15 



VON FRITSCH 

smaller formations. In their view he was too optimistic. But in 
discussions with his superiors von Fritsch was able to sweep away 
these objections with arguments that were contained in the details 
of the plan and which stressed the necessity for utmost speed, for 
which the highly trained Reichswehr of that time was well adapted. 

Having completed his work in the camouflaged General Staff, 
von Fritsch studied the conditions of the proposed campaign on 
the spot. He became chief of the Artillery Regiment No. 2, and in 
quick succession Artillery Leader JI at the 2nd Army District in 
Stettin, a district immediately involved in his scheme. On 1st 
November 1930 he asked for transfer to the 1st Cavalry Division 
in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, where, as divisional commander, he 
held the key position, and by that time his ideas dominated the 
mind of almost every officer inside the General Staff. 

His work was acknowledged in June 1932 by promotion to the 
rank of lieutenant-general, and with the arrest in the same year 
of the Prussian Government in Berlin, and the assumption of the 
chancellorship by Franz von Papen, the way was opened to von 
Fritsch and his friends to achieve the re-armament and expansion 
of the German armed forces without a campaign against Poland. 
For the closer execution of this first aim he was made commander 
in the 3rd Army District with headquarters in Berlin. 

He had been prepared to be ruthless if that were necessary for 
his purpose, but he now abandoned the idea of a surprise attack 
on Poland, and turned to political means that promised the same 
success at less cost. The man at first chosen to carry through the 
expansion of the army by the new method was General von 
Hammerstein-Equort, Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr 
under the War Minister Colonel General Werner von Blomberg, 
von Fritsch's former chief in the camouflaged General Stair de- 
partment of 1927. But in von Hammerstein-Equort, the arch- 
junker, there was nothing of the politician. Never tired of criticis- 
ing the first Hitler Cabinet, he accused Hitler of driving towards a 
premature war whilst army expansion was still under way, and 
his strictures on the arming of the storm trooper divisions were 
so blunt and severe as to defeat their purpose. He antagonised 
Hitler at a time when the future dictator was still willing tem- 
porarily to compromise with the officer class, and his career was 
brief. Then, with the appointment of von Fritsch as Commander- 

16 



VON FRITSCH 

in-Chief of the Reichswehr on 1st February 1934, Hitler thought 
he had found the man to whom concessions could be made. 

Von Fritsch, holding the same theories as von Hammerstein- 
Equort, but with a larger view, was fully aware of the causes of 
von Hammerstein-Equort's failure. He knew how to wait for his 
opening, and in the first few weeks he avoided the issue. Then 
towards April of the same year he was able to force Hitler's hand. 
In dealing with the crisis over the storm troopers he used an appeal 
that with Hitler has never failed the security of the Ftihrer's life. 
Up to that time it had been quite obvious to Hitler, Goring, Hess 
and several other leading personalities inside the Nazi Party that 
Roehm, the Chief-of-Staff of the storm troopers and the security 
echelon (S.A. and S.S.), was preparing to arm the men of his organ- 
isation. They were satisfied that this armament was intended for 
the benefit of the country, and that Roehm genuinely believed 
that his storm troopers could be used as a militia in the expansion 
of the armed forces of the future Greater German Reich. But von 
Fritsch, on material supplied by the intelligence service of the 
Reichswehr, was able to show that Roehm was preparing to use 
his armed storm troopers against the existing government and 
that he had a plan for rebellion during which k the Fiihrer would be 
shot by accident'. This sensational exposure of the storm troopers' 
organisation produced the results that von Hammerstein's more 
honest, but cruder methods had failed to accomplish. 

It has never been established whether these documents pro- 
duced by von Fritsch were genuine or not, but they were the death 
of Roehm and his friends. While the executions or murders, 
for there was no pretence of legalised form were going on, 
officers of von Fritsch's intimate circle played with the idea of a 
coup d'etat of their own. Von Fritsch himself dismissed the scheme, 
but saw that it came to the knowledge of Hitler via Goring, who 
was careful at that moment to assume a more "neutral' role. It 
provided for a Cabinet to be headed by either von Fritsch or von 
Blomberg (as a puppet); the Foreign Minister was to be Herr 
von Nadolny, a diplomat who had been an active peace-time officer 
in the German Army, and General von Hammerstein was to be 
Minister of War. The immediate arrest of Himmler, Heydrich, 
Goebbels and Darre was intended. Darre, the Minister of Agricul- 
ture, was regarded with displeasure by the Junker class because 

17 B 



VON FRITSCH 

of his hereditary estate laws which brought the landowning class 
under the strict supervision of the State. One of these laws pro- 
vided that if a person was 'unfit to till soil' the State could appoint 
another man, not as administrator but as owner, whilst the former 
owner stood a good chance of ending up in a lunatic asylum. 
Darre was fully aware of the animosity he had aroused amongst 
von Fritsch's friends, which explains why he took every oppor- 
tunity to discredit the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. 
The civil administration was to be handed over to the industrial 
leaders of the Rhenanian and Ruhr districts. The slogan to be 
addressed to Hindenburg was 'Save Germany for the Fourth 
Time', and an excellent motive for the execution of the plan was to 
be found in the assassination of General von Schleicher and his wife. 

Having put an end to this half-hearted plot by revealing it, and 
so to all appearances saving Hitler at the most dangerous crisis 
of his political life, von Fritsch exacted his price. He secured a 
definite assurance that a repetition of the 'playing soldier' policy 
of the late Captain Roehm would not be permitted. Hitler wrote a 
letter to the Minister of War, Colonel General von Blomberg, 
shortly after the election of August 1934, in which he said: k l 
will always consider it my duty to stand for the existence and 
inviolability of the armed forces and to make the army the only 
bearer of weapons in the nation'. This was accepted by von 
Fritsch as the final check upon any Nazi leaders who might look 
at the Reichswehr generals with jealous eyes. 

This apparently decisive internal political success encouraged 
him to exploit further his already strong position in the Govern- 
ment. In November 1934 he impugned the good intentions of 
Hitler and his closer Nazi friends in a political question that was 
quite outside the province of the Commander-in-Chief of the 
armed forces. It had come to the knowledge of higher Reichs- 
wehr officers that the Nazi Party was about to force the hand of 
Hitler in his dealings with heavy industry and the big banks. 
Party economists thought that the time had come when private 
enterprise should be controlled by the Reich, and that foreign 
assets, shares and banking accounts in the hands of German 
individuals should be handed over to the Government. Leaders 
in finance and industry, alarmed for their private interests, turned 
to von Fritsch for help, whose strong position after the Roehm 

18 



VON FRITSCH 

breach they recognised. He took up their cause, made strong 
representations to Hitler and appeared to prevail, for Hitler 
instructed the Government officials concerned to deny that these 
proposals formed any part of the Nazi programme. 

An argument put forward by the Nazi Party chiefs in favour of 
this new measure of control was that, with freedom to administer 
private finance, the Reichswehr would have the benefit of larger 
funds for foreign intelligence purposes, while von Frilsch for his 
part recognised that this intelligence work would be largely 
handled by the foreign department of the Party itself, and various 
other 'camouflaged' organisations all over the world that were 
directly or indirectly under the Party's control. As more recent 
history shows, von Fritsch's success was temporary, and the grip 
which the Party octopus sought to gain over the whole Reich and 
its affairs abroad was only delayed. 

For a time, however, he seemed to represent the country's only 
bulwark against the Nazi Party inside Germany. The illegal 
'German Freedom Party' saw in him a friend of their cause, and 
quoted him in their secret pamphlets, circulated in Berlin 
and other larger cities of the Reich. For the Commander-in- 
Chief of the Reichswehr such friends were extremely embarras- 
sing, and on many occasions he rebuffed them with flat denials. 
But the small illegal anti-Nazi movements inside Germany were 
at that time not easily discouraged, and when it became known 
that von Fritsch had had a hand in stopping the Party from ac- 
quiring control over German foreign assets, they carried their 
support so far that in Berlin it amounted to an open demonstra- 
tion, though on a small scale. During a wrestling match in the 
famous Circus Busch in Berlin a group of three hundred men 
suddenly stood up and shouted 'Down with the hunger govern- 
ment down with the system'. Special police cordons were 
rushed to the place, all the demonstrators were arrested, and were 
subsequently subjected to the worst form of inquisition by the 
Gestapo. 

The chief of the Gestapo, Heinrich Himmler, thought he had 
evidence that the demonstration had been encouraged by the 
attitude of the Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr, and 
without informing Hitler, he ordered his second-in-command, 
Reinhard Heydrich, to collect further evidence of the disloyalty 

19 



VON FRITSCH 

of von Fritsch. A few months later he approached Hitler with a 
bundle of documents and a number of witnesses who were willing 
to swear that von Fritsch had committed immoral acts. But 
Himmler had miscalculated, for Hitler generally knew the men 
who could serve him best at a given moment. He rebuked Himmler 
and dismissed the accusations with the laconic answer: 4 I need 
von Fritsch's cool nerves for the declaration of the independence 
of German rearmament and the reoccupation of the Rhineland. 
Burn the documents and shoot the witnesses'. 

Himmler, however, did nothing of the kind. He kept his docu- 
ments, and instead of shooting the witnesses put them into a 
concentration camp for safe keeping, giving Heydrich further 
secret instructions to watch the movements and contacts of the 
Commander-in-Chief as closely as possible. 

From the beginning of 1935 von Fritsch concentrated even more 
than usual on purely military problems. He was called upon to 
decide between higher German military leaders who could not 
come to an agreement among themselves about the final com- 
position of the expanded German army. 

On the one hand, von Fritsch insisted on that essential of all 
modern strategy, speed. There were a number of officers known 
inside the Reichswehr organisation as 'the technical men' who 
were willing to satisfy this demand for an army composed almost 
exclusively of tanks, mechanised and motorised formations. Their 
outspoken advocates were Generals Lutz, commander-in-chief 
of the Panzer forces, Guderian, Panzer specialist, and other 
higher officers, amongst them Nehring and many General Staff 
officers. Even such generals as von Reichenau and von Bock, 
whose names were associated with theories in which tank forma- 
tions were considered as only part of a modern army, now 
favoured the technical advocates. 

On the other hand, a strong faction of highly experienced 
generals opposed such drastic changes in the course of rearma- 
ment. Chief of these were the senior general of the Reichswehr, 
Gerd von Rundstedt, the defence expert Ritter von Leeb, the 
future Chief of the General Staff, General Beck, the commanding 
general of the 2nd District, General Blaskowitz, and many others. 

It was left to von Fritsch to decide. He found a compromise 
that hurt nobody and more or less satisfied every general's de- 

20 



VON FRITSCH 

mands. But broadly he held to the view that the efficiency of the 
comparatively small army which he commanded at that time 
would suffer by the too rapid expansion which Hitler's future 
plans categorically demanded. 

Hitler's first aim was to test the will of the democracies to put 
a halt to this expansion inside and outside Germany. He proposed 
to reoccupy the Rhineland and to make a complete and open 
repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles by declaring the Wehrfrei- 
licit (sovereignty over the expansion of armaments inside Ger- 
many). Von Fritsch made it quite clear that he would not risk the 
progress of the development of the armed forces by any such 
ambitious undertakings until he was sure there would be no 
fighting. He agreed to back Hitler to the utmost in a policy of 
bluff, but thought it impossible to challenge the combined French 
and British forces in 1935. This pact between Hitler and von 
Fritsch held good, and von Fritsch set to work. Whilst Hitler 
continued in his speeches to make threatening appeals to foreign 
powers, half asking them for favours, half menacing them with 
war, von Fritsch devised his own methods for probing the spirit 
of resistance of the west. 

The first opportunity was given to him in January 1935, during 
the plebiscite in (he Saar when the French Government had sent 
seventy-five French Foreign Legionaries there to record their 
votes in favour of France. The Commander-in-Chief sent an 
agent into the Saar to deal with these men. They were promised 
400 each and quick promotion inside the Reichswehr if they 
would vote for Germany, and then ostentatiously desert the 
French army to join Hitler's. Sixty-seven accepted these olTers, 
only eight refused. The French authorities did nothing. 

The next step was to send serving officers and men of the 
German Army to the Bavarian Palatinate as 'visitors'. These visits 
were most artfully camouflaged, and the following is a typical 
example of what happened shortly before the formal reoccupa- 
tion of the Rhineland by the German Army. One Sunday morning 
in 1935 twenty-two men of the 2nd Company of the 21st Infantry 
Regiment, in full uniform, paid a visit to the small city of Landau, 
in the Palatinate, and were received by the local mayor and a 
deputation of the population under the very noses of the French 
border officials. They stayed in the town against all the rules and 

21 



VON FRITSCH 

regulations of the Treaty of Versailles and, contrary to the most 
solemn assurances given to France, visited the barracks of the old 
18th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, which had been garrisoned 
there before the war of 1914-18. 

Paris maintained complete silence^about ~the incident. Timid 
protests raised by newspapers and deputies of such French 
frontier cities as Strasbourg and Mulhouse were immediately 
answered by the Reichswehr in a fashion that showed the tor- 
tuous and ruthless mind that inspired such schemes. It was repre- 
sented to the French people that the 2nd Company of the 21st 
Infantry Regiment was simply carrying on the tradition of the 
former 18th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, and that it was perfectly 
in order for these men to visit the former barracks of their pre- 
decessors in the old Imperial Army. Their intention, Berlin ex- 
plained, was merely to keep up the spirit of tradition inside the 
army of the Third Reich. 

These and other carefully arranged incidents, which were re- 
ferred to by von Fritsch as 'reconnaissance in the field of foreign 
policy', convinced him that the great throw could be risked; and 
the Rhineland was duly reoccupied. 

So far he had advanced almost in step with Hitler. The differ-- 
ences in their methods were more those of form than purpose. 
On the one hand was the head of an army, jealous of its pre- 
eminence in the state, and very consciously exercising his author- 
ity, and on the other was the man without tradition, using a 
technique which was calculated at every turn to emphasise his 
own personal predominance. Von Fritsch naturally thought first 
of the army, Hitler of the Party upon which he depended. In their 
internal and international conduct they were alike without scruple, 
for neither with the Commander-in-Chief nor with the Fuhrer did 
any sense of honour prevent a systematic policy of deception 
towards the Allies, any amount of trickery towards the German 
Government itself, or the eventual assault on Poland in 1939. 

Von Fritsch's arrogance and self-confidence, as we have seen, 
were noticed by General Niessel. He was now very conscious of 
his powers, and set a limit to Hitler's. He gave special orders for 
the conduct of officers and men in the Fuhrer's presence : instead 
of their addressing the Supreme War Lord with the Party form 
'Heil Hitler' he directed that 'Heil mein Fuhrer!' was enough, and 

22 



VON FRITSCH 

more in keeping with their own dignity. The sting of this insist- 
ence on the army's distinctive place in the state was not lost, we 
may be sure, upon Himmler and his friends, who had not for- 
gotten the end of their first round with the Commander-in-Chief. 

The successful occupation of the Rhineland exalted Hitler as 
much in the eyes of the Party as in his own, and von Fritsch's 
bearing stiffened accordingly. Hitler's strategy had been proved 
right. The democracies, so recently the conquerors, were no 
longer able to hold their own ; their guns, as was said later of the 
League of Nations, 'would not go off'. When Saarbrlicken was 
occupied Hitler appeared in splendour and received the personal 
homage of his chief leaders, Himmler, Hess, Ley and others. All 
this exhilarated Hitler until the atmosphere of worship was broken 
by the sudden arrival in the market square of a field-grey Mercedes 
car with von Fritsch and one or two staff officers. Von Fritsch 
jumped out, advanced with cold face and erect figure towards the 
Fiihrer, gave a short military salute, ignored the outstretched 
hand with which he was greeted, made a quick and brief report 
stating that everything was quiet on the frontier, sharply saluted 
again, turned on his heels, walked to the car and drove off. It was 
a chilling interlude the effect of which remained to cramp rela- 
tions between the two men. 

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 von 
Fritsch saw an admirable opportunity of testing the efficiency of 
the new German army, its technical inventions and modern strate- 
gical conceptions but no more. The first reinforcements that 
reached Franco from Germany were despatched with this idea, 
but as it happened the advance guards of the Condor Legion 
proved none too successful against an opponent who did not 
command even a fraction of the modern equipment Berlin had 
sent. When von Fritsch was pressed for reinforcements for Spain 
he revealed what his enemies called a 'decidedly non-intervention- 
ist complex', and in the salons of Dr. Goebbels and Field Marshal 
Goring stories were told about the western democracies' best 
non-interventionist supporter, von Fritsch. 

Though this tension within the highest political and military 
circles of the Reich was carefully concealed, the French newspaper 
UOeuvrewas able to publish, in November 1936, an article which, 
very much to the surprise of the people concerned in Germany, 

23 



VON FRITSCH 

described the civilian side of the Nazi Government (together with 
the two generals, von Blomberg and von Reichenau, and, of 
course, the younger army officers), as a hundred per cent for 
intervention. Decidedly against this "adventure', as they called it, 
were von Fritsch, von Rundstedt, and the Chief of the German 
Navy, Admiral Erich Raeder. It was further stated by UOeuvre 
that von Fritsch had tendered his resignation. 

This exposure acted in Berlin like a bombshell. Hitler was 
furious. Something had happened which he termed 'an indiscre- 
tion bordering on high treason'. Knowing the mood of his 
supreme war lord, Himmler thought the time had come to present 
further charges. These reports had been accumulated by Hey- 
drich, who had been busy on his original commission to spy on 
the Commander-in-Chief, and this time Himmler reported that 
after the Nuremberg Party rally von Fritsch attended a banquet 
given to all foreign military attaches present, and that during the 
speeches he had raised his glass towards the Soviet Russian mili- 
tary attache and proposed a toast to the Red Army. Himmler 
further procured material for an allegation that the Commander- 
in-Chief was secretly involved in political matters that were be- 
yond his province, and that he aimed at keeping contact with 
certain anti-Nazi elements whose activities were fostered abroad 
by German political refugees. 

Hitler did not this time give the orders to Himmler he had given 
before. He advised his Gestapo chief to lie low, but in his Reichs- 
tag speech in January 1937 he made a pointed reference to the 
material that had been put before him. He would never, he said, 
be found 'dining and wining' with Bolshevists. And there was a 
postscript to this second attempt of Himmler's to overthrow the 
Commander-in-Chief: the allegation that Himmler managed to 
smuggle into the hands of the Soviet Russian ambassador in 
Berlin a report to the effect that the Soviet Marshal Tuchatchevsky 
had had direct contact with von Fritsch. Heydrich later claimed 
that Tuchatchevsky was executed on the strength of the material 
in this report, but this remained unconfirmed. 

The expansion of the German armed forces and their reserves 
had now rapidly increased, and provision was made that in case 
of war the existing companies would be the cadres of future batta- 
lions, while regiments would be developed into divisions and 

24 



VON FRITSCH 

divisions into corps. Von Fritsch could well be content with the 
progress he had made, and obviously it was these achievements 
in the military sphere that led Hitler, as supreme commander, to 
refrain from the action against him that was demanded by the 
extremists inside the Nazi Party. 

Always sensitive to anything that stung his vanity, Hitler was 
present on an occasion when von Fritsch let fall one of his satirical 
remarks, it was in 1937, when the golden emblem of the Nazi Party, 
the emblem issued to the first hundred thousand members of the 
Party, was bestowed on Admiral Raeder, the Secretary of State Dr. 
Mcissner, the Prussian Finance Minister Dr. Popitz, Herr Funk, 
then still in the Propaganda Ministry, General Erhard Milch, 
State Secretary for Air, and von Fritsch himself. Not all these 
had had the luck to join the Party in its early stages, and on 
Milch's golden emblem von Fritsch acidly commented: 'Old 
grand-daddy Milch would turn in his grave in the Jewish cemetery 
of Brcslau if he could see Aryaniscd Erhard with this honour on 
his chest'. The assembly fro/e into silence, and the only thing that 
could be heard was von Fritsch's chuckle at his own gibe. Hitler, 
it is reported, seemed to be on the verge of one of his hysterical 
outbursts, but the tension relaxed in face of von Fritsch's bluff 
unconsciousness of the enormity he had committed. 

In October 1937 he went to Egypt on holiday. On his return 
towards the end of December of the same year he was given to 
understand that Dr. Goebbels was about to follow his example. 
Von Fritsch wrote him a letter in which he advised him not to 
overcrowd Egypt with 'convalescents', and that as the aimy 
always had priority in everything, even holidays, the Doctor had 
better stay at home. 

This was one of the last political "jokes' that were permitted to 
von Fritsch. Whilst he was relaxing on the banks of the Nile a 
trap had been set for him. It was the work of Himmler and Hey- 
drich, who had the assistance of Franz von Papen, a former bosom 
friend of von Fritsch, and General Wilhelm Keitcl, an obscure 
general officer under von Fritsch's command inside the Reichs- 
wehr Ministry. Keitcl was known as the arch-plotter in the 
Reichswehr, who had earned among other nicknames that of 
"chamber-maid of the Reich Chancellery' because of his frequent, 
almost daily, visits to Hitler. 

25 



VON FRITSCH 

It started with von Blomberg's proposed marriage, of which 
no clear account went out of Germany at the time. Perhaps we 
may digress for a moment. In a healthy society it would have re- 
mained what it was, a small personal affair, affecting nobody but 
those involved and their families. But in the Third Reich it re- 
vealed the deep division which existed between the old order and 
the new, and the fanatical devotion of both to codes that were 
held to embody their aims. Hitler, whilst complaining bitterly to 
the world in general, described Germany as an oppressed nation. 
When he said this to the democracies he did not mean to imply 
(though he may have been conscious of it) that there existed an 
oppressed mass of the people who out of fear had long submitted 
to a Herrenvolk of their own blood, that is, the army caste with 
its privileges and priorities. Perhaps the Nazis felt that at last they 
were being led not only against enemies outside the Reich but 
against their own overlords within. The masters of the old order 
may, of course, have been less crude in their methods than are 
those of the new, for the older Germany had a system of law the 
administration of which was not at the mercy of a dictating 
government, and German intellect and industry, unhampered by 
political restriction, commanded world-wide respect, and the 
Civil Service, free from corruption, ranked high abroad. 

No sign of this inarticulate revolt now came to the surface, 
though it was implicit in the army's assertion of the exclusiveness 
of its own caste. But it explains why the military leaders of the 
nation, with their very real if limited cultural background, mixed 
up trivial and tragic issues in the von Blomberg affair. 

Now for the facts. Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg in- 
tended marrying a lady of no family who had hitherto been em- 
ployed in the egg distribution department of the Ministry of 
Agriculture. Hitler and Goring congratulated the Field Marshal 
on his decision. They told him that the proposed union would 
give substantial proof that the Minister of War of the Third Reich 
had completely grasped the true meaning of the 'socialism' that 
was inherent in the Nazi community. With this blessing von 
Blomberg, bemused as only a man in love can be, for he was of the 
army caste, and knew its traditions, married Fraulein Erika 
Gruhn. His Commander-in-Chief and other generals of the army 
were profoundly shocked, as von Blomberg should have expected 

26 



VON FRITSCH 

them to be. Their world was rocking, and something had to be 
done. 

Von Fritsch at once called a conference of the leading army 
officers. This took place on 28th January 1938, seventeen generals 
being present, and was nothing less than a 'palace rebellion* 
against von Blomberg in the first place, and secondly against 
Hitler. Though the conference started with the question of what 
was to be done about the War Minister's proposed marriage, von 
Fritsch soon widened the issue. He explained to the seventeen 
that, as they knew, he had received complaints from the army 
chaplains that freedom of religious worship was severely curtailed 
by the indirect influence of the Gestapo upon the soldiers. In fact, 
some of the men had taken shorthand notes of sermons given by 
some of the divisional pastors, and the chaplains were uneasy 
about the consequences. Then, leaving the spiritual issues, which 
were of some concern to von Fritsch, he declared that Hitler 
had the intention of taking both Austria and Czecho-Slovakia 
during that year, if necessary by force. As Commander-in-Chief 
he deemed it premature to start a major conflict in Europe at that 
time, especially as two branches of the German armed forces were 
behind their schedule, namely the heavy artillery and the field 
fortifications in the east and the west. Another point was that the 
Luftwaffe was making further demands for closer participation in 
the larger strategical plans that were properly under the control of 
the General Staff of the army and the Commander-in-Chief. 
Erhard Milch, Secretary of State for Air, backed by Goring, was 
bent on building up an overwhelming air force in a minimum of 
time, and on that ground demanded that he ought to be con- 
sulted to a greater extent when, for example, plans were discussed 
for the probable invasion of countries that were not in immediate 
contact with the frontiers of the Reich, such as Norway. 

Von Fritsch reminded his audience that plans for the invasion 
of Norway had been carefully considered as far back as 1925 by 
the able General von Seeckt and the then Commander-in-Chief 
of the Republican Navy, Admiral Zenker; and said that though a 
large part of future operations in that direction would fall upon the 
Luftwaffe, he saw no reason to give further encouragement to this 
'air force upstart'. He pointed to the danger of creating an em- 
barrassing precedent if the generals once made such concessions. 

27 



VON FRITSCH 

A further point raised was the demand that the 'Franco gamble' 
be brought to an end. To continue the entanglement in Spain, it 
was argued, would give the upper hand to such people as the 
retired General Ritter von Epp, Reich Commissar in Bavaria, 
and various other, more civilian, 'strategists' who were already 
dreaming of the reconquest of colonies and other such nonsense. 
Von Fritsch said that as early as 1932 Hitler had forwarded 
to President Hindenburg plans evolved by von Epp that were to 
replace the circumspect and carefully devised ones of the Reichs- 
wehr Ministry. This clique, von Fritsch disclosed, was now using 
the Spanish affair as a lever for further schemes, and another re- 
tired General, Faupel, was their tool for stirring up trouble in this 
direction. 

To show that he meant business von Fritsch had the day be- 
fore taken the liberty of sending a telegram of congratulation to 
the ex-Kaiser at Doom on the occasion of his birthday. He now 
revealed that this telegram had made Hitler furious, and with 
similar hints he led the assembly to understand that they had 
not been rallied merely to hold counsel over the issue of the 
War Minister's wedding, but on the general line of policy for the 
future. He demanded a vote of confidence from them, assuring 
them that all they had to do was to stand by him for the next few 
days while he, as he expressed it in typical Prussian military jargon, 
would in the meantime 'manage the shop', (Ich wcnle schon den 
Laden schmeissen.) 

The next morning a company of the crack garrison regiment of 
Berlin (the Wachregiment) marched as usual from their barracks 
in the Rathenauer Strasse in the north of Berlin to the centre of 
the city, crossing the Tiergarten, Berlin's Hyde Park, and entering 
through the Brandenburg Gate. This company, complete with 
brass band and mounted officer, were accustomed to relieve the 
Guard of Honour in front of the monument for the fallen soldiers 
of the last war. They usually marched down Unter den Linden 
and changed the guard opposite the Prussian State Opera build- 
ing. Then after goose-stepping for a short time in front of the 
monument, they recrossed the Brandenburg Gate to reinforce 
the Guards of the War Ministry in the Bendlerstrasse. Usually 
only the first squad, which actually relieved the Guard of Honour 
in front of the monument, carried live ammunition. On this 

28 



VON FRITSCH 

occasion the company, after passing the Brandenburg Gate, did 
not march straight down to the monument but left the broad 
avenue of the Unter den Linden and turned to the right into the 
Wilhelmstrasse, passing the British Embassy. 

On the corner of the Propaganda Ministry, facing the Wilhelm- 
platz and the Reich Chancellery they came to a halt. Baypnets 
were fixed, and then one of those incidents occurred which in 
themselves are small but in their significance mark the course of 
history. Whilst fixing his bayonet a private who did not belong 
to the squad that was required to relieve the Guards near the 
monument, ripped open the cover of the leather pouches on his 
belt. Several clips of live ammunition fell out. The lieutenant 
commanding the platoon immediately picked them up, but they 
had not escaped the attention of several plain clothes Gestapo 
men, who had already been alarmed by the unusual direction 
which the company had taken that morning. 

Just about then Hitler was expected to arrive by car from the 
Tempelhof aerodrome, and would have to pass the company to 
enter the Reich Chancellery. The plain clothes Gestapo men took 
a taxi, raced down the Wilhelmstrasse, and near the Hallesches 
Tor caught the large open Mercedes with Hitler inside it. They 
reported what they had seen, and Hitler instantly gave orders to 
return to the Tempelhof aerodrome. There a few minutes later a 
battalion of Goring's own Luftwaffe bodyguard occupied the 
restaurant building, thus safeguarding Hitler himself from any 
possible surprises, and meanwhile a General Staff officer had 
arrived in the Wilhclmstrassc by sidecar and ordered the com- 
pany to take up their usual duties in front of the monument and 
then to return to the War Ministry. 

It has never been disclosed whether von Fritsch ordered these 
strange movements of that company, nor whether an attempt on 
Hitler's life was planned, but it is certain that Hitler himself was 
convinced that the Commander-in-Chief was about to assassinate 
him. However, when he sent for von Fritsch in the afternoon he 
gave him no indication of his real feelings. He discussed the von 
Blomberg mafriage; von Fritsch on his side pressed for a further 
reply to questions arising from the larger issues which he had dis- 
cussed the day before with his friends. Hitler agreed to ask von 
Blomberg to retire, but he refused to agree to any of the more im- 

29 



VON FRITSCH 

portant suggestions. Von Fritsch took the first concession about 
von Blomberg's marriage as a sign of weakness on Hitler's part, 
and subsequently treated him in the most off-hand manner of 
which a Prussian officer is capable. This conversation was wit- 
nessed by Colonel Warlimont, who had ideas of his own, and sub- 
sequently became one of Hitler's military advisers. By this time the 
Fiihrer had made up his mind to abolish the office of Minister of 
War and to appoint a Commander-in-Chief who would be directly 
responsible to himself. Knowing the ability of von Fritsch, he had 
thought of putting him in the office, but it was now clear that if he 
accepted he would demand too much. Von Fritsch left him in the 
best of spirits and reported to his friends that as Hitler had given 
in regarding von Blomberg's wedding he would soon make con- 
cessions on more substantial matters. 

But there was a man in von Fritsch's own office who had waited 
for this opportunity; General Wilhelm Keitel. This arch-plotter 
and intriguer had been kept fully informed not officially by 
Hitler but unofficially and more efficiently by many of his friends, 
among them the personal A.D.C. to Hitler, S.A. Group Leader 
Bruckner. Von Fritsch did not trust Keitel, but completely 
underestimated his diplomatic abilities. As far as military matters 
went he used to refer to him constantly as 'that jackass', a remark 
that had even impressed Hitler, who was not at all convinced of 
the strategical genius which Keitel claimed to possess. 

On the other hand, Hitler was convinced that preparations for 
the rearmament and expansion of the German Army and its 
training had gone so far ahead that he could now dispense with 
the services of von Fritsch if he could find someone better than 
Keitel as a substitute. That was not an easy task. He had been 
kept fully informed about the generals' conference, and the seem- 
ingly uniform mind that governed them, and so he enlisted the 
services of the then German ambassador in Vienna, Franz von 
Papen, to probe the solidity of their front. Von Papen, without 
inquiring directly, had sufficient scouts in the camp of the higher 
clique to discover that a breach could be made in it, and when von 
Fritsch returned to his friends and reported to them on his con- 
versation with Hitler he found to his great surprise that some of 
his colleagues seemed to have changed their minds over night, 
above all, General von Reichenau, General von Kleist, General 

30 



VON FRITSCH 

List and General von Bock. Generals von Rundstedt, von Leeb, 
and Kress von Kressenstein, however, stayed on his side, and 
were willing to remain there whatever happened. The position of 
General von Brauchitsch, General Officer commanding the East 
Prussian district, was undefined. 

The Intelligence Service of the Reichswehr reported that 
Himmler had ordered Heydrich to be ready to act at any moment. 
Von Fritsch was disturbed, for he did not underestimate the 
powers of the Gestapo. Seeking to create a comparatively safe 
atmosphere around himself, he invited foreign diplomats accre- 
dited to the Berlin Government to dinner for the evening of the 
1st February. When these gentlemen arrived at his flat they were 
told that the Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr regretted 
ver much that because of ill-health he was unable to attend the 
dinner party. This was diplomatic. As a matter of fact, during the 
afternoon of that day a small squad of hand-picked Gestapo men 
under the personal leadership of Reinhard Heydrich had arrested 
the Commander-in-Chief and taken him to a small villa outside 
Berlin, on the road to Potsdam. This villa had been secretly hired 
by Heydrich some time before for the purpose of 'questioning the 
Commander-in-Chief, and everything had been set for the great 
day. Here Himmler awaited Heydrich and his quauy ; Hitler had 
been informed, and was also expected at the villa. 

However, von Fritsch had not been Commander-in-Chief under 
the Hitler regime for four years without understanding Nazi 
methods : he had seen too many political personalities disappear 
and had watched the Gestapo octopus spread its tentacles 
throughout the whole life of the nation. Knowing that he was no 
safer than anyone else who had caused the Fiihrer uneasiness, he 
had long before arranged with von Rundstedt that if he should 
disappear without known reason, von Rundstedt would at once 
inform the Intelligence Department of the Reichswehr, which in 
such an event had a standing order to despatch two plain clothes 
officers in search of him. Accordingly two such officers reported 
that afternoon that the Commander-in-Chief had left his flat in 
company with Gestapo officers, and had been accompanied by 
them to a villa near Potsdam. Thus it was that only an hour after 
von Fritsch's arrival and while Himmler was still waiting for 
Hitler, officers of the Potsdam garrison surrounded the building, 

31 



VON FRITSCH 

forced their way in at the point of their pistols, arrested the 
Gestapo guards and put Himmler and Heydrich against the wall 
with their arms behind their heads treatment these two men had 
often imposed on others but had probably never before received 
themselves. Von Rundstedt reported to von Fritsch, and whilst 
they were discussing the best way of disposing of their two main 
prisoners, Hitler arrived, followed by Goring. Then there was a 
scene of double-crossing and bargaining and trading of lives and 
positions that would have thrilled the most hardened gangster. 
Finally von Rundstedt went home, Himmler and Heydrich were 
allowed to drop their arms, the S.S. guards were released, and the 
officers of the Potsdam garrison returned to barracks. And for all 
the outside world knew, nothing had happened. 

On returning to Berlin Fritsch conferred with von Rundstedt 
and von Leeb, and the three were forced to the conclusion that, 
as a number of the generals who had attended the conferences of 
the past few days had evidently betrayed them, there was no sense 
in their remaining as serving officers in the German Army. In due 
course ten other generals were consulted, and all, including Kress 
von Kressenstein, agreed to ask to be relieved of their duties 
immediately. Von Kressenstein said later of his letter of resigna- 
tion : 'I am glad to say that this piece of correspondence of mine 
to our Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler, even lacked the 
customary politeness and showed this out-of-date lance corporal 
just where he gets off.' 

The readiness with which Hitler had come to an agreement with 
von Fritsch and von Rundstedt at the villa was largely dictated by 
the attitude of the Commander-in-Chief-designate, General 
Walther von Brauchitsch, for the same morning von Brauchitsch 
had had a private conference with Hitler in which he accepted the 
position of Commander-in-Chief on condition that the position of 
Minister of War should be abolished and that Keitcl should 
receive an appointment making him at once a sort of permanent 
under-secretary-of-state-for-war and chief personal military ad- 
viser to Hitler. A just estimate of the military qualifications of 
Keitel left von Brauchitsch little concerned about the personal 
advice the Supreme Commander would get. 

The acceptance by von Brauchitsch of the highest position in 
the army without previously informing the man who at the time 

32 



VON FRITSCH 

held that position, and after he had himself joined in the confer- 
ence of generals called by von Fritsch, shows us better how to 
appraise the Prussian military conception of honour 'stern, 
upright and honourable Prussian generals who know nothing 
but their duty', as Colonel General von Seeckt described them in 
his address to officers of the First Army District, Berlin, in 1924. 
Inside the German Army and throughout Germany it is an 
accepted maxim that officers of the armed forces claim precedence 
in everything on the ground that they are the leaders of the instru- 
ment that makes it possible for the community of the German 
Reich to live at all. To foreign countries, every German is ready to 
excuse any action that any of his officers may see fit to take. The 
dogma of 'reason of State', perhaps never distinguishable from 
the passion for personal domination, has been woven into the 
mind of every German leader of every political denomination : 
even to the general public it was sacrilege up to 1933 to believe 
that this ideal was used by the leaders of the armed forces to 
achieve their personal ambitions. Yet among these leaders it would 
be difficult to name one who could be shown to be inspired by 
anything above a narrow concept of personal domination. 

To an outside world this 'palace rebellion' was hushed up by 
letters sent to von Blomberg and von Fritsch by Hitler, and as 
usual culminated in a supreme hypocritical effort. Hitler wrote to 
von Fritsch a few days later: 'You have often found yourself 
compelled because of your undermined health to ask me to release 
you from your office. As a sojourn in the south (he obviously 
refers to the Egyptian journey which von Fritsch had taken the 
previous year, and which had nothing to do with this crisis) which 
you made a short while ago has not had the desired effect, I have 
now decided to comply with your request. . . . With the restora- 
tion and strengthening of the German Army between March 1935 
and February 1938 your name will be linked in history'. 

That letter was written for the benefit of other countries, who 
had to be given the impression that the unity of the German 
command was unbroken. On the other hand both Goebbels and 
Himmler, allegedly acting under the immediate orders of Hitler, 
started whispering campaigns with the object of incriminating 
the dismissed Commander-in-Chief, Goebbels chose a line that 
was not without precedent. Hitler, explaining the shooting of 

33 c 



VON FRITSCH 

his best friend Roehm in 1934, gave among other reasons the 
fact that Roehm had seen the French Ambassador, M. Francois- 
Ponget, and discussed foreign politics with him, a meeting that 
was regarded by Hitler, so he said, as high treason. Now Goebbels 
circulated the rumour that von Fritsch had had secret and treason- 
able relations with M. Daladicr, the French War Minister. Himm- 
ler made a quite different accusation, but equally designed to 
-mark von Fritsch as being opposed to Hitler's regime. He ordered 
his Gestapo men to whisper into the ears of the German people, 
among whom they found ready audience, that von Fritsch had 
attempted a monarchist plot in which the second son of the 
Crown Prince was named. After some time both Goebbels and 
Himmler issued a formal denial to such rumours, to which, of 
course, they thus gave fresh currency, as intended. 

But the Nazis were not content at seeing von Fritsch out of 
office, and Heydrich, particularly, began producing new accusa- 
tions. The chief security officer of the Gestapo had boasted of 
having in his hands evidence that would hang von Fritsch at any 
time. Knowing this, von Fritsch, while under detention in the 
villa near Potsdam, had demanded a fair trial of honour in which 
he could meet all accusations against him. He now repeated his 
demand, and for his immediate safety installed himself in an 
army camp near Hanover whilst the necessary court was being 
constituted. There he received a communication stating that the 
court would be held in the presence of Hitler, von Brauchitsch 
and several other generals, with Goring as president. Von Fritsch 
was to leave for Berlin by train. 

One morning towards the end of March 1938 von Fritsch 
boarded a train at Hanover station. From inside his compartment 
he saw that the platform outside his carriage was surrounded by 
plain clothes Gestapo men. He at once left the compartment from 
the other side, passed through another train that had pulled up 
alongside, made his way to another platform, and took a car 
back to the army camp. 

On arriving his batman handed him a telegram which had been 
sent to his quarters. It stated that von Fritsch had met with a 
fatal accident on his journey to Berlin, and that his body would be 
delivered to the army authorities in Berlin the next day. Three 
days later von Fritsch faced the court with this telegram in his 

34 



VON FRITSCH 

pocket. The scene rivalled that in the villa, though no guns were- 
drawn. Both Goring and Hitler kept quiet. Himmler and Hey- 
drich, having had reports that their scheme to have the former 
Commander-in-Chief removed by a 'fatal accident' had faifed, 
were not there. 

Von Fritsch, in the account of the strange proceedings he gave 
to his former A.D.C., said that for two hours, 'I let them have 
broadside after broadside, and it needed a man like that thick- 
skinned Goring not to be blown to bits by it". Then he returned 
to Hanover, where a small villa had been provided for him by a 
number of officer friends. 

Months went by. The international situation came to boiling 
point again and again. Though Hitler was convinced that in von 
Brauchitsch he had a good substitute for von Fritsch, he was not 
at all convinced of the military qualifications of Keitel. He knew 
that in the dismissed Commander-in-Chief he had lost a source of 
military strength, especially as the charges trumped up by Himm- 
ler and Heydrich had been shown to be baseless. 

He tried to approach von Fritsch again, and again the services 
of that agile busybody Franz von Papen were enlisted. The first 
opportunity came when von Fritsch 'in recognition of his ser- 
vices' (a compliment that raised much satirical comment in 
higher government and army circles in Berlin) was made Colonel- 
in-Chief of the Artillery Regiment No. 12 at the manoeuvre field 
of Gross-Born in Pomerania. In the presence of von Rundstedt, 
Blaskowitz, the local Commander-in-Chief, and other high 
officers, von Brauchitsch feted von Fritsch. Nor did he end his 
compliments with the usual 'Heil Hitler!' but, as a special tribute 
to his former superior, called for a triple 'Hurrah' and ordered the 
band of the 12th Artillery to play the march past of the regiment 
not, as was customary, two national anthems which would have 
inflicted on von Fritsch's ears the Horst Wessel song to whose 
author he had repeatedly referred as 'that libertine'. On this 
occasion it was left to von Fritsch to propose the Sieg Hell for the 
Fatherland, and, in a much lower voice, a Hell for the Fiihrer. 
Hitler was not present, for the sufficient reason that all his 
attempts to conciliate von Fritsch had failed. 

Von Fritsch insisted on three demands before he would enter 
into negotiations with Hitler again. 

35 



VON FRITSCH 

(1) The instantaneous dismissal and the subsequent trial of 
Himmler. 

(2) The immediate execution without trial of Heydrich. 

(3) The dismissal without prosecution of Goebbels, and, to 
quote von Fritsch, 'that inflated elephant baby' Goring. 

He had refused to be present at the ceremony at Gross-Born if 
Hitler were present, as he did not want to be taken by surprise by 
any announcements Hitler might make regarding his reinstate- 
ment. At the same time Hitler feared the worst as regards von 
Fritsch's visit to Pomerania, being certain that the displaced 
Commander-in-Chief would take the opportunity to talk things 
over with his former friends in that province, which is the play- 
ground of all arch-junkers. 

Von Fritsch deliberately prolonged his stay, and it was only 
eight days later that Hitler, 'sacrificing his holidays', also went to 
Gross-Born, and to show how much superior he was in rank to the 
sacked von Fritsch he was not content with reviewing a single 
artillery regiment but ordered the presence of the entire Second 
Army Corps. 

Up to the outbreak of the war in September 1939 he never lost 
hope of regaining the services of von Fritsch, and the untiring 
Franz von Papen besieged the latter with proposals. Hitler, who 
understood what he needed from professionals and experts, well 
knew that none of the active service generals was von Fritsch's 
equal. Fully aware as Supreme Commander of the origin and 
foundation of the plans of operation that were to be put into 
execution as soon as the first shot was fired, he had no intention 
of leaving it to men like Keitel, and he also doubted whether von 
Brauchitsch's great gifts were adequate. He was willing to accept 
von Fritsch even at the risk of having in high office the general 
who was least attached to himself and the Nazi Party. 

But von Fritsch stubbornly maintained his demands, and he 
was never reinstated. It was reported that at times Hitler played 
with the idea of dismissing Himmler and Heydrich, but that he 
was given to understand by those two powerful men that any 
such order might leave him in danger. Thus it was that at the 
outbreak of this war von Fritsch, out of favour and no longer in 
the running for a leading position in the army, joined the regi- 
ment of which he had been made Colonel-in-Chief. On 22nd 

36 



VON FRITSCH 

September an announcement by the High Command of the Ger- 
man armed forces stated that the former Commander-in-Chief, 
Colonel General Baron Werner von Fritsch, had been killed in 
action. This report and a very brief obituary did not for long con- 
ceal the truth. Von Fritsch had been assassinated. It was reported 
that only the day before his alleged death in battle he had been 
seen at Grodzisk, a small town twenty-two miles from Warsaw. 
This report came from German prisoners who had been captured 
the next day by a squadron of Polish Lancers in front of Warsaw. 
It was therefore impossible for von Fritsch to have been leading 
an armed reconnaissance party of his artillery regiment, which 
would in any case have been an unlikely duty to be undertaken 
by so senior an officer. 

With the end of the Polish campaign details about the assassin- 
ation filtered through. On the morning of 22nd September von 
Fritsch was standing with the battery commander of No. 2 
battery of his regiment in a comparatively quiet position, some 
miles to the west of Warsaw. He was looking through field glasses, 
and had asked his A.D.C. to get him a greatcoat. No. 2 battery 
commander had also left his post and joined the A.D.C. Von 
Fritsch was looking towards Warsaw. In his rear four S.S. men 
in the uniform of the German army were busying themselves. 
Suddenly one of them fired at von Fritsch's back, but at that mo- 
ment the A.D.C. came out of a slit trench, received the bullet, 
and dropped dead. Von Fritsch turned on his heels and drew his 
pistol. 

Two S.S. men were killed outright, a third one was wounded in 
the head, the fourth managed to shoot von Fritsch in the head 
and heart. The man who killed von Fritsch was himself shot dead 
by his victim, who fired from the ground. That is how von 
Fritsch Tell for Fuhrer and Fatherland'. Immediately after his 
death the S.S. formations were handed a story that was intended 
to be a justification for the murder. Von Fritsch, ran this account, 
criticised the ruthless use of Panzer battalions, which were run- 
ning down women and children with their tanks in their advance 
towards Warsaw. It was sought to brand von Fritsch as a weak- 
ling who would be liable at any time to hinder the advance of the 
German Army ; and it is significant that at that time the story was 
only given to the S.S. formations who had provided the murderers. 

37 



VON FRITSCH 

At the state funeral granted by Hitler to the former Com- 
mander-in-Chief von Brauchitsch made an oration that came 
near to being a condemnation of Hitler and his gang. 

It has been suggested that in a last flickering of personal 
friendship he cared little what happened to himself, having set his 
mind exclusively on defending the honour of his dead brother 
officer. Unhappily no such high motive can be attributed to him; 
he was merely safeguarding himself against an intended double- 
crossing by Hitler, Goring, Goebbels, Hess and Ribbentrop, 
who had set their minds on reaping the moral harvest of the 
Polish victory, whilst von Brauchitsch, looking forward to con- 
ducting the French campaign the next year, was not inclined to 
brook any interference from such civilians. He also wanted to be 
in a strong position to deal with the armed S.S. formations, which 
had appeared inside Germany in increasing strength, and he 
intended tc press his demands that these formations should take 
part in the battles to come. 

The one man who rebuked Hitler in forthright terms was Field 
Marshal von Mackensen, the aged retired officer who had held 
high command in the Great War, and who was known alike for 
his mediocre capacity and his uncouth manners. Von Mackensen, 
who owed his reputation and his place during the First World 
War to Hans von Seeckt, his Chief-of-StaflT, had been greatly 
impressed by von Seeckt's reports of von Fritsch, By sheer acci- 
dent he had come into possession of the real facts relating to von 
Fritsch's 'heroic death', and he was the more shocked because he 
had lived in a world in which the shooting of a general of the 
German Army by members of the secret police was inconceivable. 
When he celebrated his 90th birthday he accused Hitler in front of 
a large party of being responsible for the death of von Fritsch. 

The dead Colonel-General left circumstantial evidence of his 
murderers' motives. Before he volunteered for the artillery regi- 
ment in which he met his death in front of Warsaw, he had written 
what he called his political testament, and had several photo- 
copies made. When he was killed these copies circulated among 
higher officers of the army on whom they naturally made a deep 
impression. In this testament von Fritsch was said to have ex- 
plained his ideas of the limited power that should be given to 
Hitler and the supreme power that should be retained by the 

38 



VON FRITSCH 

generals during the war, so that whatever the outcome they could 
dismiss Hitler at will. 

In the German Army today there are military leaders of high 
capacity, as this book will show in detail. None of them can 
claim to rank with von Fritsch. Examination of his original 
Polish plan, drawn up before the expansion of the German army, 
makes it clear that even with the relatively small army of the day 
it might have been possible to crush Poland in a short time. The 
unprecedented increase of the armed forces of the nation and, 
what is more important, the maintenance of the high standard of 
efficiency that had been set in the past, go to von Fritsch's credit. 
He was probably the military equal of Moltke senior and of 
SchliefTen. His assassination freed Hitler from his strongest 
political adversary, but it deprived the German Army of a leader 
who might have prevented decisions that have brought the 
German Reich from a prospect of near-victory to certain defeat. 

For Germans and for many outside Germany Baron Werner 
von Fritsch represented, together with others of his clique, the 
type of Prussian officer who, with all his limitations, still re- 
tained a distinction which the Nazis do not possess, either in 
theory or in practice. The Prussian officer joined hands with the 
Nazis and to the Nazis the better part of his character succumbed. 
Though by early training a religious man, von Fritsch did not 
allow any religious principle to stand in the way of that deadly 
State necessity which it was his military ideal to serve. Nothing 
was so sacred to him as his profession and the nationalism that 
inspired it. He was an exceptionally gifted member of a class 
which used the German people as an instrument of war as Hitler 
has done, and the fact that Hitler succeeded better than they by 
developing their own methods further is their very condemnation. 
In ways and means von Fritsch may have differed from Hitler 
and the Party, but their final aim was the same, for he and his 
kind were not above Hitler in their disregard of human lives, 
whether the lives of their own people or others. 



39 



Field 
Karl Rudolf (Jerri von Rundstedt 



Prussia is not a state that possesses an army; it is an 
army that has conquered a nation. MIRABEAU 



General von Rundstedt is tall and spare, and as he crosses 
a parade ground his even step suggests both self-com- 
mand and wiry endurance. The thin, intellectual features 
might be those of the priest if the outward alertness^ of the 
soldier were absent; and there is so little sentiment about him, 
apart from sentiment with a motive behind it, that his own son 
ceased to interest him when he chose philosophy as a voca- 
tion rather than the army. It is indeed this devotion to the 
prestige and traditions of his profession that has so limited his 
wider intellectual development, as it has limited that of countless 
other men of his caste. 

Within his own sphere, however, von Rundstedt's dignity is at 
once apparent. His force of character may be greater and his 
decision more incisive because of his lack of humanity in the 
broader sense. After bending for hours over a large scale map, his 
keen, melancholy, dark eyes searching and probing, he will rap 
out his orders in precise, clipped language, dispatching his aides 
in every direction unconscious of the effect produced by his hard 
uncouthness, his incidental rudeness that is frequently part of 
him. Treating all alike whether they are people of importance or 
of no consequence, he has the courage of his bearing, and will 
even criticise Hitler the 'civilian' if he should interfere with his 
professional plans, though he will do all he can to encourage 
Fiihrer-worship if it means, for instance, the increased strength of 
his army group. 

When involved in any political issue, von Rundstedt lacks 
diplomacy and personal charm ; and knowing his limitations he 
avoids the issue. Of the needs and conditions of the civilian world 
outside him he is satisfied to stay in ignorance. It is primarily on 

40 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

the battlefield that he is to be reckoned with, for though as a rule 
working within the scope of his advance plan of operations, in 
that rigid manner common to every German officer, he has the 
gift, so rare among his colleagues, of being able at a moment's 
notice to disengage himself and improvise new tactics. 

It is von Rundstedt more than any of Germany's generals who 
is likely to put a severe tax on the resources of his Allied oppo- 
nents if he is permitted to remain in command of western Europe. 



Field Marshal Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt is the ablest 
military leader in Hitler's service to-day, accomplished in theory 
and proved in action, and to him has fallen the leading executive 
role in the operational plans for the present war laid down by 
von Seekt, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr, and 
completed by his most outstanding successor Werner von Fritsch. 
The oldest German Field Marshal on active service, von Rund- 
stedt, who was born on 12th December 1875, has even more 
experience of war behind him than had von Fritsch. In peace- 
time he was probably von Fritsch' s nearest rival as a strategist, 
and since von Fritsch's death his word has become law in the 
German army, where he has been nicknamed 'the high priest of 
strategy'. 

He was destined for the army while still in the cradle. His 
family was well known in the so-called Altmark of Brandenburg, 
and boasted of ancestors who, as independent war lords centuries 
before, fought the lieutenants of the German Emperor (then 
seated in Vienna), and the Counts of Hohenzollern who adminis- 
tered these border districts. 

After preparation at the local grammar school, von Rundstedt 
entered the cadet schools of Oranienstein and Grosslichterfelde, 
and at the age of 17 joined the infantry regiment No. 83 at Kassel 
as an ensign. As a first lieutenant he passed to the infantry regi- 
ment No. 171, also known as the 2nd Upper Alsatian Infantry 
Regiment : a transfer not made on military grounds alone. He was 
to strengthen the Prussian element in Alsace and to counter the 
resistance of the conquered French population which showed no 
sign of declining. Characteristic of his race in the ruthlessness 
and narrowness of his political outlook, von Rundstedt was ex- 

41 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

pected to set before Alsatian leading families an example of 
Prussian austerity and gravity worthy of their emulation. 

Though in this he failed, the Prussian ideal, even at its best, 
being repugnant to the Alsatian temperament, he was highly re- 
garded throughout the entire military district of Alsace-Lorraine 
as a young officer of exceptional gifts. Captain von Rundstedt, 
as he was now, let it be known that the garrison commander of 
Colmar consulted him at every opportunity in the preparation of 
plans of mobilisation which supplemented the general directions 
issued by the Berlin General Staff. Seconded to the staff of the 
garrison as aide-de-camp he took his duties lightly enough but 
became what he liked to call "the pocket edition of a chief of 
staff'. His transfer to the General Staff in Berlin was then a 
matter of time. 

During the last war he occupied the important post of Chief of 
Staff of the XV Army Corps and served in this command on the 
eastern and western fronts for a brief spell ; then he was trans- 
ferred to the Turkish General Staff and did much to help in its 
urgent work of reorganisation. 

In these offices of distinction he never forgot that his father 
had been a major-general of the arch-junker class of Brandenburg- 
Prussia, especially when less gifted colleagues, whose blood might 
have done more for them than their brains, jealously raked up the 
fact that his mother had been a simple bourgeois with the maiden 
name of Adelheidt Fischer. Von Rundstedt himself had married 
in 1902, and had been careful to select his wife for her family's 
aristocratic background. Though his father-in-law was only a 
major, he rejoiced in the name of von Gotz, while his mother-in- 
law was a baroness, born a von Schlotheim a name so typically 
aristocratic that it used to serve for the romantic heroes of six- 
penny love stories written for parlourmaids. 

It was the nature of von Rundstedt to desire actual power of 
command more than rapid promotion in rank, and he remained 
a major throughout the last war. The Reichswehr could not 
dispense with such a man, and he was gazetted a lieutenant- 
colonel in October 1920. Until 1923 he investigated the reasons 
why the Imperial Army was defeated and he wrote special 
memoranda on the subject to authorities in Berlin, his conclu- 
sions going far beyond the normal intellectual scope of a General 

42 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

Staff officer. He examined the economic position of every govern- 
ment that had declared war on Germany and his main conclu- 
sion was that the real cause of her military downfall had been the 
economic power of Great Britain. During later years he often 
tried to bring political and military persons of importance to the 
same conclusion. 

As a colonel von Rundstedt became Chief of Staff of the 3rd 
Cavalry Division, which under the command of Lieut.-General 
Paul Hasse was responsible for the military occupation of 
Thuringia in 1923. With the excuse of quelling a Communist up- 
rising in that district he went methodically to work to eliminate 
the danger to men of his own class, both in the army and in 
heavy industry, that might result from a left-wing or Communist 
Government in Thuringia. Although they knew him to be a 
thorough-going Prussian, his ruthlessness surprised even his 
friends. 

Here in central Germany the workers were determined to stop 
the development of those reactionary elements whose traditional 
purpose was to thwart and nullify the Weimar constitution. The 
majority of the population of Thuringia sympathised with the 
workers whose battalions were well prepared for an open conflict 
with their former lords and masters who, like the Bourbons, had 
learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Von Rundstedt answered 
their assertion of rights with machine-guns, and, with a lightning 
redisposition of his troops, he smothered all resistance at the 
outset. 

With the military power of the left-wing groups thus liquidated, 
von Rundstedt tried his hand at internal politics for the first time 
by staging a so-called general election in Thuringia under the 
bayonets and guns of his division, with the result that within a few 
months the province was reckoned one of the most nationalistic 
and reactionary inside Germany. This election gave birth to the 
group of Reichstag deputies who formed a centre of obstruction 
to any further socialistic developments, saw to it that the activities 
of the army were sufficiently camouflaged, and never forgot to whom 
they owed their position. Von Rundstedt, together with General 
Hasse, had sworn an oath of allegiance to the constitution of the 
German Republic, and thus formally acknowledged that it was 
by the authority of the Government he had been charged with main- 

43 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

taining peace and order in Thuringia. His conception of his task 
was such that he protected and even instigated movements against 
the constitution to which he was pledged, always defending his 
measures with the formula that whatever action the Thuringian 
representatives might take against the Reich Government and 
against the constitution, he had only done his military duty. 

Von Rundstedt, recognising no loyalty but to the army, con- 
sidered it consistent with his honour to be disloyal to the govern- 
ment he served. It was a standard that was taken as a precedent by 
many other officers, who felt that if a man of von Rundstedf s mili- 
tary reputation could adopt such a line in political matters, they 
would be perfectly correct in following his example. The alterna- 
tive, indeed, would have been much more difficult for them, the 
influence of the army on their lives being far more powerful than 
that of the civil government. Thus to the military credit he had 
earned, von Rundstedt now added the reputation of being a 'stout 
nationalist'. Under the existing regime this meant a long spell of 
pretence and hypocrisy for the great majority of the Reichswehr 
officers, while for those responsible for rearmament against the 
country's Treaty undertakings it necessitated hard lying. 

In 1924 von Rundstedt became Chief-of-StatT to the 2nd Army 
District (Stettin) which position he held for one year. The 
appointment was given to him as a rest after his political success 
in Thuringia, for in Pomerania political questions did not hamper 
purely military affairs. But the matador of the nationalist cause 
in the ring of Red Thuringia could scarcely rest on his laurels, and 
a willing audience of retired imperial generals, of big landowners 
and young ensigns and lieutenants, responded with flattering 
applause to the now larger views of their new Chief-of-Staff. Von 
Rundstedt continued to dabble in politics, this time on a larger 
scale. Pomerania had the reputation of being the most militaristic 
province in Prussia. It had in peace-time supplied the Imperial 
Army with a number of first class cavalry and infantry regiments, 
notably grenadiers, but now, with the limitation of armaments, 
the Reichswehr garrisons in Pomerania were few and scattered. 
By a subtle and effective propaganda campaign von Rundstedt 
won new support for his political and military aims, and urged on 
assemblies of professors and teachers that if the youth of Pome- 
rania were trained in military bodies, officially or unofficially, they 

44 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

would escape the 'breath of socialist devilry', and would not be in- 
fected by the poison spread by people he called 'apostles of Marx 
and helpmates of a hell compared with which Dante's Jnferno 
would be child's play', hi such figures of speech he pictured his 
own government in Berlin and the constitution of the German 
Republic, which prescribed to him, as Chief-of-Staff of an army 
district, the duty of seeing that officers and men under his com- 
mand and that of his commanding general should faithfully ob- 
serve the obligations they had undertaken when entering the 
army of the Republic. That year of his in Pomerania was nothing 
but a continuous breach of the oath that he had voluntarily under- 
taken five years before. 

In 1925 he was transferred again and took over command of 
the 18th Infantry Regiment in Padcrborn, a post he held until 
1927. These years as a mere colonel of an infantry regiment had 
been forced upon him by his friends in the Rcichswchr Ministry 
because he had been rather careless and over-confident in Stettin 
in 1924, and it was thought wise that one politically so committed 
should 'disappear' for some years until the future of the Reich 
should be more clearly defined. Caring little about the regiment 
under his command, von Rundstedt employed himself usefully in 
preparing for the events he foresaw and the* ambitious part he 
hoped to take in guiding them. He studied the strategy of other 
armies, especially of the French and the Russian; and at the 
same time was privately supplying the camouflaged general staff 
in Berlin with schemes of manoeuvre built up on the real opera- 
tional plans that lay in the safes of the Reichswehr Ministry. It 
has been said of these plans that they provided for the very last 
detail of the organisation and timing of as many as 500 units and 
formations in one operation, and are remarkable for their particu- 
lar stress on mechanisation in transport and attack. 

The value placed on them by the Reichswehr explains the un- 
usual distinction conferred on this colonel of an infantry regi- 
ment when in 1927 he was chosen to become Chief-of-Staff of 
Group Command II in Kassel. The Group Command was one of 
the most important commands below the office of the Com- 
mander-in-Chief in Berlin. It exercised military power over the 
whole of western Germany, and to a large extent supervised 
preparations for the turnover of industry from peace to war, the 

45 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

construction of shadow factories and so forth. Up to the time of 
von Rundstedt's appointment the generals and Chiefs-of-StafT 
of the Army Group Command II had found difficulty in persuad- 
ing industries to accept machine tools that would easily turn out 
modern armaments. The political atmosphere in the Ruhr dis- 
trict, in south-western and central Gerrrjany had not been favour- 
able for such a plan on a larger scale. Von Rundstedt changed 
that. As a major-general he travelled up and down the area under 
his command and held conferences with important industrialists 
with whom he discussed subjects that caused even his immediate 
superior, General of Infantry Walter Reinhardt, to shudder. In 
fact, Reinhardt tried to put a brake on the activity of his ambitious 
Chief-of-Staff. He was not averse to this activity, which was useful 
to himself and his friends in increasing the armed strength of 
Germany, first against foreign powers, and secondly as an instru- 
ment of internal nationalist policy; but he was afraid, and as 
younger Reichswehr officers cynically put it, he sometimes even 
had scruples in continuing his violation of the oath of allegiance 
he had sworn. 

Consequently complaints poured into the Reichswehr Ministry, 
signed by von Rundstedt himself, stating in plain terms that 
it was impossible to work under a chief whose courage was not 
equal to his task. Thus he took direction into his own hands, and 
it is symptomatic of the influence he had acquired that before 
appointing a successor to Reinhardt the Reichswehr Ministry 
despatched a confidential messenger to him to ask for his advice. 
He actually chose his own superior, who turned out to be Baron 
Kress von Kressenstein senior, an old reactionary who was an 
ideal choice for the purpose. Scruples concerning the means by 
which the military cause could be served did not exist for the 
Baron. He was delighted with the progress his Chief-of-Staff had 
made. 

Von Rundstedt, of course, had friends in Berlin. It would have 
been impossible for him to pull strings at the War Office so effec- 
tively if it had not been for his bosom friend von Schleicher, the chief 
conspirator and intriguer in the capital. It was von Schleicher who 
saw to it that von Rundstedt was given the command of the 2nd 
Cavalry Division in Breslau in January 1929, where again he 
threw himself into illegal preparation for the expansion of the 

46 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

armed forces. As Chief-of-Sta(T of Group Command II he had 
to deal mainly with industry; now as Chief of the 2nd Cavalry 
Division he was more concerned with the man-power and the 
resources upon which the Reichswehr could draw in case of emer- 
gency. He professed that in the descent on Poland he might be 
forced to call upon trained reserves at shortest notice ; that was his 
explanation in confidential conferences with the Reich Govern- 
ment in Berlin ; but there was a more immediate reason. The dis- 
trict of the 2nd Cavalry Division forms a strategic key to the 
capital of the Reich, where a severe internal political struggle was 
going on. The nationalist elements thought that the time would 
come soon when they could step out into the open for the execu- 
tion of their ambitious plans and dispose of any Socialist or 
Democratic Government in Berlin. The reactionary conservative 
elements under the leader Hugenberg, who had probably the 
closest link with the Reichswehr, had come to the conclusion that, 
though they might gain considerably through elections, the 
support they could get would never suffice to form a government 
of their own and that only by a military coup d'etat could they 
'rectify an otherwise impossible situation in Berlin' (von 
Schlcicher). Von Rundstedt himself never forgot that any increase 
of the army would work for internal domination, though he only 
referred openly to the defence of the country against potential 
enemies. 

Events came nearly to a climax when in 1931 he was appointed 
Commander of the 3rd Army District in succession to General 
Joachim von Stiilpnagel, because in this office he was the virtual 
dictator though only in case of emergency of Berlin. The am- 
bitious General von Stiilpnagel, though politically hand in glove 
with von Schleicher, had impetuously overstepped the mark by 
referring to himself as the probable Chancellor-designate of a 
future nationalist government, an assumption that did not fit into 
von Schleicher's own private plans. 

A year later von Rundstedt became Commander-in-Chief of 
Group Command I and thus senior officer in the Berlin and central 
and eastern German districts. By this time both Army and 
nationalist leaders thought that events were ripe for action, and 
that the capable Roman Catholic Chancellor Bruning could be 
replaced. It was through an incredible stroke of intrigue that 

47 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

Bruning was deprived of office by the aged President von Hinden- 
burg, and Franz von Papen appointed Chancellor, whilst a certain 
Herr Bracht became Reich Minister of the Interior. Bracht's 
capacity as a statesman and his consciousness of the urgency of 
the moment may be gauged by a decree wherein he laid down the 
exact number of centimetres of bare skin bathers were allowed to 
expose. Perhaps in this he was not so naive as he seemed. The 
Government were acutely embarrassed and popular attention 
had to be distracted. 

Bruning, though profoundly shocked at this lack of confidence 
by a President whom he had just assisted in attaining a second 
term of office, retired without protest. The political power in 
Prussia, however, was still in the hands of the Social Democratic 
Party, and the Prime Minister of Prussia, Herr Braun, together 
with the Minister of the Interior, Karl Severing, had a stronghold 
of considerable weight in the persons of the President of the 
Berlin Police, Grzesinski, and his able Vice-President Dr. Weiss. 
Although the Prussian ministers had already made large con- 
cessions to the Reichswehr, especially in connection with the 
security of the country, they were now unwilling to yield further. 
For at last they saw that the expansion of the Reichswehr and the 
army's encroachment on political government were directed 
especially against themselves, and only as a secondary consider- 
ation concerned with any foreign danger. 

With courage that surprised the protagonists of the army, 
not to speak of von Papen, who thought that the game had been 
lost, both Braun and Severing barricaded themselves in their 
ministries and surrounded them with strong bodies of local 
police who were nearly as well armed as the Reichswehr infantry. 
Then on the 20th July 1932 von Rundstedt declared a state of 
siege, and Braun, Severing and Grzesinski surrendered to the 
proverbial lieutenant and platoon and were transported to the 
officers' detention barracks. Possibly the only man who would 
have answered this flagrant breach of constitutional rights with 
equal firmness was Karl Severing, but his voice was not heard. 
Von Rundstedt addressed the population of Berlin saying he 
would be *as mild as possible if my wishes are obeyed during 
this stage of emergency in Berlin', but that he would ruthlessly 
employ force to break any resistance. To the German and foreign 

48 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

press he explained that he could see nobody, and refused to appear 
before them. 

Privately he fell into bathos and explained: "I might be cari- 
catured by some of the cartoonists', and that would never do for a 
Prussian general. He hated publicity, which he called 'hot air', 
and never was on a good footing with the press. Though it might 
be argued that the persons officially most responsible for these 
acts were President Hindenburg and Chancellor von Papen, it is 
undeniable that the Reichswehr commanders involved, and above 
all von Rundstedt, were the ready instruments in what was in fact 
a bloodless revolt against the constituted State authority. Von 
Rundstedt later admitted that the order to arrest the legitimate 
government of Prussia did not cause him so much as ten minutes 
loss of sleep. 

Once the coup d'etat had succeeded von Rundstedt advocated 
the dismissal of the rather unpractical von Papen, who, he thought, 
would let slip the fruits of victory ; and it was mainly through the 
strong support of the Commander of Army Group 1 that General 
Kurt von Schleicher assumed the Chancellorship. Thus for the 
first time the man who had hitherto used the heads of German 
Governments like marionettes on a string, took over the respon- 
sibility himself. It was a false step. Von Schleicher was refused 
support by all political parties in Germany and especially by the 
strong Nazi Parly. 

It was now probable that the internal war which had been 
waged by the army against the Socialist and Democratic Govern- 
ments would become one between the army and the National 
Socialist Party. But after a careful review of the past and an effort 
to assess what might happen in the future, von Schleicher thought 
it better to retire. He saw it would be impossible to carry out a 
large-scale programme of rearmament and army expansion with 
a National Socialist majority in the Reichstag, and this conclusion 
was further influenced by the moral and physical weakness of the 
Socialist and Democratic parties. Not all their leaders had been 
proof against the army's appeals to their nationalism, and their 
Government had never controlled a force that could stand up 
against any threat of action by the army. Although the Storm 
Trooper organisation of ihc Nazi Party was far from being armed, 
it had been drilled and was ready to receive machine-guns and even 

49 D 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

artillery, which would make it a stronger threat against any op- 
position than could be summoned by the Socialist Democratic 
deputies. The army leaders, of course, had been quite content 
to see the Social Democrats choose the Reichstag as the arena 
in which to settle their differences and quarrels. 
-. The first Hitler Cabinet was now formed after the President 
had consulted with von Schleicher and the commanding generals 
of the Reichswehr, which, under the constitution, had no author- 
ity in the matter. Von Schleicher gave his blessing to this Cabinet 
because he was certain that the General Officer commanding the 
Army Group I, General von Rundstedt, would at any time be 
in a position to act again as the army's faithful watch-dog, and 
nobody in the Reichswehr had any doubt that if called upon to 
do so von Rundstedt would repeat the operation which, for his 
own ends and those of his friends, he had carried out in 1923 in 
Thuringia. 

The pressing demands of the army to dispose somehow or 
other of the increasing power of the Storm Troopers and the 
ambitious designs of their Chief-of-Staff were largely based on 
the feeling of security they had in von Rundstedt, who was always 
there with a considerable armed power at his hand as a last means 
of argument, and von Rundstedt himself never pretended that he 
was not ready to act as expected. It was at this moment that the 
Nazi Party Cabinet ministers and higher leaders of the Storm 
Troopers were seeking to enter the more exclusive social circles of 
Berlin, and, in his capacity as Group Commander, von Rund- 
stedt ought to have accepted them. He flatly refused. To an out- 
sider such conduct on the part of an important German army 
leader may not readily be understood, for obviously a political 
platform had now been constructed upon which larger plans for 
an expansion of the army could be put into practice. Certainly 
neither the Government nor any section of the population would 
have offered any criticism of rearmament. Such opposition as had 
been offered at any time under the new regime had been feeble, 
for it came only from individuals. All the army leaders had longed 
for in the fifteen years since the Armistice had been achieved. But 
now the real character of men like von Rundstedt came to the 
surface. 

Whatever the generals thought of Germany, the German 

50 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

community or the security of the Reich, their principal concern 
was to put again into power the caste that had always controlled 
the army, which had been not only the instrument of Govern- 
ment but the directing power behind it as well as the dominant 
influence in the German social system. For this was a class 
struggle. The new National Socialist Government loudly claimed, 
before the German nation and the world, that it would break down 
all barriers of class distinction inside Germany, and that in time 
every man would be put into the position he had the capacity to 
fill. That was the appeal made to the people, and it not only served 
the Nazi purpose within Germany but deluded many outside. 
The worst of the most immediate of Nazi aims was to force the 
whole of industrial Germany into the service of a war machine 
that would be directed by Hitler and his handymen. Incidental 
to this would be a new hierarchy and its personal aggrandisement, 
and the long crescendo of savagery entailed in crushing opposition. 

All this seemed to suit von Rundstedt and his friends, for they 
reckoned on being able to re-direct power into their own hands, 
where according to their traditional scheme of things it belonged. 
To them the Nazi clique were upstarts, and that label disposed of 
them without much examination of their aims. And while the 
Nazis prepared and lured the credulous who disregarded German 
history into believing in their peaceful intentions, the von Rund- 
stedts won the sympathy of their opposite numbers abroad with 
their claim to be simple German patriots watching only for the 
danger in the east. 

Henceforth von Rundstedt, as Commander-in-Chief of Army 
Group I, made it plain that if Goring's State Police could not 
deal with the Roehm followers he would at a minute's call provide 
the firing squads. But Nazis and Junkers were not united in their 
sinister purposes, for when General Kurt von Schleicher and his 
wife and others were murdered with a reckless disregard for law 
and order that might well have given alarm to other high officers, 
von Rundstedt was not moved to show condemnation. His own 
predominant position had been relieved of the immediate threat 
from Roehm and his staff organisation in Munich and Berlin, 
which commanded millions of potential soldiers who might have 
been turned against the regular army. 

The 'brown dirt', as von Rundstedt described it, having been 

51 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

cleared up, he settled down again to the expansion of the new 
training for the troops under his command. In contrast to many 
of the leading generals, he had been an infantry specialist, and as 
such was likely to be rather backward in his views, or so people 
thought who did not know him well. They soon learned better. 
While other departments in the Reichswehr busied themselves 
with questions of Panzers, of artillery, of aircraft collaboration 
and many hundred other of the important and indeed vital im- 
provements and repairs in armaments, Rundstedt made it his job 
to increase the striking power of the mass of the German army, 
the infantry. Reforms made effective on the ground of urgency 
centred in the following considerations. 

It was impossible to send infantry into battle under the condi- 
tions of the last war. The automatic arms of the heavier support 
given at that time to riflemen were obviously inadequate. Never 
again must charging infantry become easy prey for the increased 
automatic arms of other branches, of the more deadly attack 
from the air, from heavy artillery and the fire and speed of the 
tank. Therefore Rundstedt suggested and then put into practice a 
complete re-organisation of this branch of the army. The in- 
fantry company received twelve machine-guns, three light mortars 
and an unspecified amount of anti-tank weapons. Thus the 
armament of the individual company was heavier than the arma- 
ment of an entire regiment during the last war. The infantry regi- 
ment comprised three machine-gun companies instead of one as 
in the last war, six extremely heavy mortars, a communication 
platoon, an engineer platoon, a cavalry squadron, a close support 
gun battery and a comparatively strong anti-tank company. The 
organisation of the entire regiment was protected by anti-aircraft 
of light and medium calibre. 

The increase in heavy armament for the infantry regiment 
involved the question of its transport. As the transport had to 
be moved at the speed of the individual rifleman, horse-drawn 
vehicles were used to a large extent. Only in action where quick 
change of position and fast transport were necessary was motoris- 
ation adopted, this being almost exclusively in the anti-tank com- 
pany and the anti-aircraft batteries. For the rest of their heavy 
weapons the infantry had under its command horses exceeding in 
number those of a cavalry regiment during the last war, which 

52 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

explains the large purchases of cavalry horses in England and 
other countries before the outbreak of the second world war. 

The usual formations attached to the headquarters of an in- 
fantry regiment were strengthened, and particular care \vas taken 
by von Rundstedt to make the commander of an infantry division 
fairly independent as regards engineers. Pontoons, labour sections, 
motor saws for felling trees, flame-throwing companies and so 
forth became a standard issue for this division. The anti-aircraft 
artillery was considerably reinforced, and throughout the entire 
divisional structure a certain number of machine-guns was per- 
manently allotted to anti-aircraft groups. 

These changes required all leaders and their men to bo fully 
acquainted with their material, and to know how to put it to 
the best tactical advantage in the field. N.C.O.s especially had 
to be given more individual training than before, and here von 
Rundstedt was up against :i difficulty. Tiie soldiers he com- 
manded, and especially the riflemen, had been through a school 
centuries old which relied on strict obedience and discipline 
rather than individual thinking. The reputation of the Prussian 
Grenadier was founded on the fact that he would execute orders 
under the heaviest fire without batting an eyelid. The disregard for 
human life on the part of the command and willingness to die as 
the duty of the soldier were the fundamental pillars of this reputa- 
tion. But with modern armament this ideal was changed. 

Von Rundstedt demanded special N.C.O. schools and got 
them. He demanded a special propaganda campaign to break 
down the belief that infantry must be sacrificed in fighting against 
automatic arms. In this way he sought to dispel the 'neurosis 
against the machine-gun hair, as he called it, and he was success- 
ful. When in the German Army there grew up a tendency to believe 
that mechanisation alone could achieve the speedy victories de- 
manded, he was able to re-direct the outlook of the persons 
responsible and to confine the tank specialists to their own tasks. 
He demanded that even the ordinary infantry should be trans- 
ported by lorries, supplied to them as occasion arose by the 
Service Corps of the army or by vehicles commandeered inside 
Germany or by the countries to be occupied. This explains why 
the majority of incoming recruits after 1935 were still finding 
their place either in the infantry or its incorporated arms, and 

53 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

naturally the spokesman of this army thereby increased his 
standing and his power. 

Once these questions had been settled and they had been re- 
garded as only tactical details in the larger strategy von Rund- 
stedt made it his job to enlighten the General Staff officers, and 
the officers under training for that appointment, on the art of 
higher leadership. He inculcated the belief that whatever tech- 
nical science produced in improved armaments, however good the 
results that officers of the more technical motorised formations 
could produce, they all depended in the end on the man who had 
to break down the final resistance, the rifleman. Fundamental in 
the training of the General Staff officer, therefore, must be the 
assumption that while the rifleman could march generally at a 
4-5 miles speed, he could travel at a pace of 40-50 miles if his 
General Staff officer gave him the transport he needed. But what 
would be the use, von Rundstedt argued, of an army that could 
only travel at high speed when it was forced to meet resistance 
and penetrate that resistance at the rate, probably, of one or two 
miles per hour? The cumbersome vehicles and troops not used to 
hard infantry fighting would then become sitting targets for a 
spectacular slaughter. 

The years 1935-7 saw von Rundstedt concentrating on this 
theory, and within those years he accomplished work which 
under more normal circumstances might have occupied another 
commander for decades. His manoeuvres were always based on 
the assumption that the speed of the infantry could be switched 
from one moment to another from four miles to forty or vice versa, 
and the time-tables and details of organisation and preparation 
that as a consequence had to be prepared under his care became 
the pattern which other high leaders had to follow ; they became 
the standard conception in the new German Army. 

By the end of 1937 von Rundstedt found time to pay special 
visits to staff colleges and other training schools for higher 
officers, and now more than ever he insisted upon a clear recogni- 
tion of what had led to the downfall of the old German Imperial 
Army in 1918. One of his most striking utterances was made when 
he addressed an assembly of General Staff officers on a special 
course in 1937: 

'From the very beginning Germany's chance of victory lay 

54 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

in the possibility of keeping up a mobile warfare against the 
Allies. When stalemate came on the western front it should 
have been the first duty of the German Imperial General Staff 
to start mobile warfare afresh in the spring of 1915, instead of 
which the efforts to regain the initiative were postponed to a 
date in 1918 when the American aid to the Allies was smashing 
all hope of victory for the German Army. Time always works 
against any Continental power at war with England; that has 
been proved in the past, and is entirely true to-day, when highly 
developed armament industries depend more than ever on over- 
seas imports of raw material. A Continental power wishing to 
defeat England must have either Russia or the United States as 
an ally in order to have any chance of victory. If this constella- 
tion cannot be obtained, then England must be an ally of any 
power aiming at predominance on the Continent. She must not 
be neutral, for even as a neutral she can turn the scales of vic- 
tory as may suit her convenience. The lesson to be learned from 
this is that land power is useless if not coupled with command 
of the sea. But sea-power alone can strangle a Continental 
power in the long run.' 

As leading exponent of this school of thought, von Rundstedt 
vainly demanded that the Reich Cabinet should reassure itself 
about the position of England in any future war. The attitude 
of the British Government before the German invasion of Poland 
completely misled the German experts on these matters ; in fact, 
von Ribbentrop's personal experiences in England and his 
subsequent handling of German foreign affairs made the German 
Government believe that England would never fight again. This 
'expert' opinion was handed with the full authority of the Cabinet 
to the General Staff, and to such leading men as von Rundstedt 
and others; and whilst it was very generally accepted, von 
Rundstedt remained sceptical. He, like General Walther von 
Brauchitsch, was opposed to any armed conflict with England, 
and he never tired of pointing out the deep gulf between the 
mentality of the insular English and that of the Germans, who 
were apt to be deluded about the potentialities of their 'cousins 
across the Channel', as von Rundstedt liked to refer to the 
British. Though he could not produce any concrete evidence, on 
many occasions he expressed the feeling that England might adopt 

55 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

an attitude considerably different from that which von Ribben- 
trop and his friends predicted. He was never entirely convinced by 
that wishful thinking which regarded the English as degenerate 
pacifists and weaklings. This attitude did not imply any particular 
sympathy for England, and he was no advocate of British- 
German collaboration : his motives were guided more by the fear 
that German plans for world domination might receive a severe 
setback at the most inopportune and unexpected momenl. 

When in September 1939 Mr Chamberlain at last called a halt 
to the German Government with the alternative of war, von 
Rundstedt found this fear realised and his judgment confirmed. 
His views were founded on a thorough and intimate study of 
latent British power, which, if time permitted, would spell the 
same end for Germany as in the last war. He was never much 
concerned, of course, about any immediate danger to the German 
armed forces from the British, but he understood what her gathered 
strength meant on the sea and in the field as the war developed. 

His close association with von Fritsch during the critical days 
of the spring of 1938, had led to his retirement during the greater 
part of 1939. Under the Nazis it was to be expected that a soldier 
who dreamed of a world dominated by Junker rather than Nazi 
Germans should be placed on the retired list. Nevertheless at the 
outbreak of war there was no question about who would be the 
leader of the first and most important army groups in the field, 
and von Rundstedt was recalled. There must have been a tacit 
agreement that the differences in opinion disclosed in 1938 should 
be allowed to rest during hostilities. 

Commanding the German Army Group South that advanced 
from the eastern tip of Slovakia, von Rundstedt overcame the 
Polish forces in the sector Cracow-Lembcrg, then broke into 
the southern Polish defence in the triangle of Kutnov, which he 
out-flanked, and so decided the Polish campaign. He took War- 
saw, and has been credited with the rapidity of final victory in 
Poland. At the beginning of that campaign there were certain 
phases of which the Germans can^ scarcely be proud. There was a 
stage when von Bock had run his 'divisions against an almost solid 
resistance on the part of gallant and determined Poles, and even 
his frontal attacks resulted in nothing but heavy casualties. 
It was von Rundstedt's execution of an almost flawless opera- 

56 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

tion that kept the time-table which had been set for the campaign 
by the late Colonel General von Fritsch. 

Once Warsaw had fallen, von Rundstedt saw his task achieved, 
and rather contemptuously attended the ceremonies that marked 
the entry of the German troops into the capital. When at the 
beginning of October 1939 Hitler arrived at the airport of Warsaw 
with the Prussian General von Kochenhausen and Major-General 
Rommel, the Commander of the General Headquarters, to 
supervise preparations for his triumphal entry into the city, von 
Rundstedt dismissed the entire affair as an Affentheater* (mock 
stage), and spoke his mind incisively to Heydrich, second-in- 
command of the by then all-powerful Gestapo, who had been 
very much in favour of elaborate preparations for Hitler's osten- 
tatious entry into the enemy's capital. Nevertheless, both von 
Rundstedt and Blaskowitz had to supervise arrangements for the 
march past, and both made biting comparisons between these 
meticulous preparations and the work they had had to do to reach 
Warsaw at all. 

After the conquest of Poland the situation in the east was re- 
garded as anything but stable, and during the winter of 1939-40 
von Rundstedt was appointed military governor of Poland, which 
implied nothing less than German preparation for any 'eventual- 
ities' in connection with Soviet Russia. He turned a blind eye to the 
malevolent activities of Frank, the civil governor of Poland, and 
had as much regard for the lives of the Polish population as for 
the wild bears and wolves he was shooting in the virgin forests 
in the heart of Poland. 

In 1940 von Rundstedt was put in charge of Army Group A. 
This command covered the centre of the front against Belgium 
and France, and its forces advanced over the Maas, and played 
an important part in Flanders and Artois up to the Channel coast 
in the first part of the campaign against France. During the 
second part he pierced the Weygand line on the Aisne and 
Marne, opening the way for further Panzer attacks into the rear 
of the Maginot Line. The development of operations in the west 
had shown he was right in the military sense in putting special 
emphasis on the modernisation and expansion of the infantry, 
for it was the preparatory operations of the infantry alone, with 
its main and diversionary attacks, which in each sector opened 

57 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

the way for the Panzer divisions. 

At the beginning of the Russian campaign in 1941 von Rund- 
stedt was given a command similar to the one he had held in 
Poland. Again he covered the central army group and was 
commander-in-chief of the Army Group South. Here there 
were indications of possible difficulties for him, because under his 
command he had Hungarian and Rumanian formations, a large 
percentage of former Austrian units and some important divisions 
of the German armed forces proper. At first he was severely ham- 
pered by the destruction of important strategical communication 
junctions inside Rumania, caused partly by accurate Russian 
bombing, partly by the efficient work of the Russian intelligence 
service, and his operations were in danger of being completely 
paralysed by these setbacks. Yet in spite of this von Rundstedt, 
with an Army Group comprising four separate armies with 
a total strength of from 40 to 50 divisions, put through an opera- 
tion that has been considered the most flawless and brilliantly 
executed of prepared plans. In swift strokes he forced Marshal 
Budjenny back, and it stands greatly to the credit of the Soviet 
leader that he was not forced within a few days to surrender 
the major part of the army under his command. He did splendid 
work in extricating his troops from the most difficult positions 
into which he was forced by von Rundstedt. 

All the more credit must be given to von Rundstedt because of 
two factors of considerable importance which worked against him. 
One arose from the clumsy dispositions of General von Kleist, 
his chief armoured formation commander. Von Kleist, whom we 
shall meet later and criticise in detail, was recognised as a com- 
plete failure, both as a general and as a disciplinarian. The second 
adverse factor was that on more than one occasion Rumanian 
ancillary troops acted on ideas of their own. Moreover their 
standard of equipment, their organisation, their staff work were 
far below the standard to which von Rundstedt was accustomed, 
and caused increasing difficulties inside his Army Group com- 
mand. 

Von Bock advanced in the centre, confident in the knowledge 
that his southern flank would be well protected by von Rundstedt. 
Not only was this confidence fully justified, but von Rundstedt 
went beyond his defensive role by seizing unexpected opportuni- 

58 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

ties for attack. On approximately 25th August 1941 he saw the 
chance of waging a battle or series of battles that might bring 
about the collapse of the military organisation of the Red Army. 
In fact he saw the opportunity for which the operational plans of 
the German General Staff had originally been planned, and which 
anticipated a quick victory once the first frontier battles had been 
fought and the majority of Russian divisions had been defeated. 
This opportunity seemed to occur in the Gomel and Kiev sector. 
Von Rundstedt directed that the right flank of von Bock's Army 
Group should separate from his own left flank, should quickly by- 
pass the Russian resistance, and then join him again, so encircling 
the great majority of the Russian forces. Von Bock's eyes, how- 
ever, were fixed on a more centrally situated and spectacular 
objective: the speedy conquest of Moscow; and as Hitler 
and the supreme staffs were mostly at von Bock's Army Group 
the encircling operation did not result as von Rundstedt had 
planned. 

It has been reported that von Rundstedt openly accused von 
Bock of negligence by delaying the capture of Kiev for five weeks, 
during which the majority of Budjenny's field forces escaped. 
When in September Kiev was captured, and the busy Dr. Goeb- 
bels trumpeted the capture of four armies under Budjenny's com- 
mand, von Rundstedt must have mocked at the claim. He knew 
better. It was during this operation that he recognised the skill of 
Marshal Timoshenko, who had despatched to the scene one of 
his ablest lieutenants, General Dobroserdov. In this leader von 
Rundstedt met his match. 

After the capture of Kiev, which gained him a valuable base 
but not the higher strategical objective of smashing the major 
part of the Russian armed forces, the main German effort shifted 
more than ever to the central sector, with Moscow as the prize. 
Von Bock's failure here was conspicuous. At the same time von 
Rundstedt's 'black sheep', von Kleist, managed by intrigue and 
by pulling strings to claim a victory for himself which, though a 
considerable force of the Russian army was involved, was of not 
more than local value. In the Battle of Uman a considerable 
Russian force was captured which impressed von Rundstedt a 
great deal less than it did Hitler and his advisers at General 
Headquarters. Later, when von Bock's failure almost resulted in 

59 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

the rout of the German forces before Moscow it was von Rund- 
stedt who was called in to clear up the mess. 

It was thought adequate to leave von Kleist, the Victor' of 
Uman, in charge of the important southern army group. Von 
Rundstedt had left him a perfectly stable front, and it was 
obvious that though an early capture of Rostov would be welcome, 
it was not of vital necessity. The season had progressed, and posi- 
tions for further operations in 1942 had been gained by von 
Rundstedt in the south. The ambitious von Kleist thought 
differently, and his ensuing operations rather spoiled the effect 
of von Rundstedfs strategy. He rushed forward to Rostov, and 
by extremely unskilful manoeuvring -especially by his inability 
to recognise at an early date the disposition of Russian reserves 
suffered a severe defeat. Von Rundstedt was now too busy on the 
central sector to lend any assistance to von Kleist. Thus the end 
of the southern campaign of the year 1941 was not wholly satis- 
factory, though not through any fault of von Rundstedfs. 

The abilities of von Rundstedt had by that time proved them- 
selves to be the best at Hitler's disposal, and completely over- 
shadowed the achievements of the northern army group com- 
mander, Field Marshal Ritter von Lecb, who as a military leader 
came nearest to von Rundstedt. By March 1942 von Rundstedt's 
leadership was unrivalled in the German Army, and his pre- 
eminence was recognised when he presided over a strategic con- 
ference in Berlin in March 1942. That year he celebrated the 50th 
anniversary of his entry into the German Army, and Hitler marked 
the occasion by a letter he wrote him in which he showed his 
awareness of the dangers gathering about his own position if he 
gave too much credit to the man who had established himself as 
the ablest German general of the war. The letter was written 
in diplomatic language congratulating the Field Marshal, but put 
rather less emphasis on his ability and his achievements than 
was due. 

The conference in Berlin laid down the steps for future offen- 
sive operations in the east and reviewed the situation in the west 
created by the increasing might of Britain and the possibility of 
an invasion of Europe. Von Rundstedt must by this time have seen 
clearly that Germany could not achieve the early military decision 
she had hoped for, and he was probably already in doubt about 

60 



VON RUNDSTFDT 

the issue of the entire war. The Blitzkrieg of the early stages was 
over. The excitement of the initial victories had died down, and 
there were already so many symptoms of lawlessness that he was 
impelled to issue a stern warning. His Order of the Day of 25th 
March 1942 said: 

The conceptions of mine and thine are becoming confused. 

Even the private property of the crews of our tanks which have 

been put out of action is being stolen.' 

Such behaviour among German troops should not be associated 
with a cracking in spirit ; it referred in this case to the looting and 
thieving that went on during the occupation of western Russia. 
The High Command were not troubled about it; every general 
was willing to allow some licence to the German soldier as a 
reward. And it would be equally wrong to suppose that von 
Rundstedt was concerned with high moral principles. He thought 
and had expressed himself in that sense in peace-time that if 
the soldiery were permitted to steal as they liked from occupied 
territories they would lose restraint among comrades, and in- 
creasing relaxation of discipline would affect military efficiency. 
It is one of the most closely guarded secrets of the German 
Army that many of its officers and men were court-martialled 
and put to death during this period, but it is known that von 
Rundstedt treated his own soldiers as severely as he treated the 
workers of Thuringia in 1923 ; in fact even more harshly and with 
less discrimination. The practical result was to check looting 
between comrades and the unsoldierly spirit that gave rise to it. 

Once operational plans for the 1942 offensive against Russia 
were laid down, von Hock, Paulus, Kolhe-Hoth, von Mannstein 
and others were entrusted with their execution in the field. Von 
Rundstedt, true to his preconceived ideas, considered the situa- 
tion in the west to be equally important. Everyone knew, civilians 
in high government positions and military leaders alike, that he 
was conspicuous among those who had never underestimated 
Britain's potential power, which by this time was having its effect. 
Hitler's anxiety to keep a definite balance of power and reputation 
among his civilian and military lieutenants now became apparent 
once more. Von Rundstedt was taken at his word about his 
warnings in the west, and was subsequently sent to France to take 
over the post of Commander-in-Chief in that area from Colonel 

61 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

General Dollman, who owed his appointment largely to his stand- 
ing as a specialist on super-heavy and long-range artillery estab- 
lished on the Channel coast. Von Rundstedt commanded roughly 
20 to 25 divisions in Holland, Belgium and France, and several 
small fully mechanised divisions. One of his first steps as Com- 
mander-in-Chief, Western Occupied Countries, was to meet 
Grand Admiral Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the German 
Navy, with whom he discussed problems of collaboration between 
Navy and Army. The two had always held similar political views, 
and they were of one mind on the defence of western Europe, 
though the Admiral had little assistance to offer. 

The troops under von Rundstedt's command had practical 
experience of his methods after the Allied commando raid on 
Boulogne. The German propaganda machine reported that he had 
personally decorated one hundred officers and men with the Iron 
Cross for their skill and bravery during this engagement. What 
Dr. Goebbels did not report was that within a few days of the 
raid von Rundstedt presided over a court martial that condemned 
150 officers and men to death, and though one might assume that 
cowardice was the reason for these executions, it has since been 
alleged by neutral observers that von Rundstedt went so far as to 
put responsible officers against the wall for technical mistakes 
committed during the raid, a procedure unusual even in German- 
Prussian military records. 

For a theatre that was at least temporarily non-operational he 
could claim only limited reserves, especially as the battle for 
Stalingrad and the Caucasus was already in full swing. What 
handicapped him more than anything else was that for the purpose 
of better mobility of his forces he had to rely almost entirely on 
the industries of the occupied countries within his command, 
with only a very meagre part of the output of the Ruhr district. 
The considerable production of these districts, which in normal 
times that is to say, without interference by the R.A.F. would 
have been substantial, now became uncertain. Von Rundstedt 
perforce imposed on himself a limit in the defence of his 'fortress' ; 
in Holland and in a large part of Belgium he relied almost exclu- 
sively on static defence works, and even these lacked a good deal 
of what his experts considered necessary. The German military 
governor of the Netherlands, the Luftwaffe-General Christiansen, 

62 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

for example, depended a good deal on bluff, and on more than 
one occasion he offered Goebbels facilities for showing neutral 
correspondents part of the 'gigantic defences' erected under his 
command. This was done with the full approval of von Rund- 
stedt, who has never despised even the simplest ruse de guerre. If 
one were to accept the reports given out after these conducted 
tours at their face value Holland would seem to be one mass 
of defences. In reality the cunning Christiansen toured his 
guests up and down the country without any maps, and very 
often they saw part of the same sector again and again. In France 
proper von Rundstedt had been keeping back a mobile reserve 
which was less than he needed because its expansion was limited 
by the declining output of industry. This gives us an indication 
of the tactics he is likely to adopt against invasion. 

Though the Berlin Propaganda Ministry has impressed on 
Germany and the world that von Rundstedt is the foremost 
defensive specialist in the German Army (a statement without 
basis in von Rundstedf s service record), it may safely be predicted 
that the Field Marshal will conduct his defence on extremely 
offensive lines. That is to say, he will leave it to the static defences 
along the Channel coast and along western France down to Spain 
to delay any Allied combined operation so as to give him time to 
recognise the main Allied thrust. It will be more in accord with his 
military ideas if he concentrates a comparatively strong strategical 
mechanised reserve, which will meet the main Allied attack on 
ground favourable for the Germans. In an open field battle he 
might have a chance of turning the scales in his favour. The only 
alternative would be to separate his troops along the coast, to 
man all his static defences and try to appear in force along the 
entire coastline, which would leave him hopelessly outnumbered 
at any given point and exposed to the fate that his lieutenant von 
Kleist suffered at Rostov. It would be unwise to rely on such un- 
imaginative tactics from Germany's ablest general. There might 
be some nasty surprises. 

Von Rundstedt's appointment as Commander-in-Chief, Wes- 
tern Occupied Countries, demanded a certain amount of diplo- 
matic activity from him. His dealings with the Vichy Government 
called for both tact and determination if he were to achieve his 
object of keeping Laval in power without ceding him any military 

63 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

force whatsoever. By way of tact, von Rundstedt harped on the 
theme that had already been used by poor Marshal Retain when 
he was sueing for an armistice: the understanding between two 
experienced professional soldiers 'soldier to soldier', as Kcitel 
grimly repeated. Von Rundstedt was successful in this sphere. 
For the rest, determination was easy, for there was no serious 
risk, though there might have been a waste of force. Vichy had 
no military power, while von Rundstedt commanded a fully- 
trained and efficient body of men armed with all the up-to-date 
implements of war. Nevertheless it was undesirable for him to use 
his power, as that would have meant an unwelcome diversion of 
his mobile reserves. His policy of tact and good behaviour paid 
him when he was called on to occupy Vichy territory after the 
Allied landing in North Africa. 

The Axis reverse in North Africa put an additional burden on 
von Rundstedf s shoulders. The sphere of his activities was ex- 
tended to the Mediterranean, and he had to lake part actively in 
the planning of the defence of Italy and the Balkans. Criticising 
could not now help the hard-pressed Afrika Korps, and Rommel, 
who had enjoyed hitherto great freedom from the direction of the 
German High Command, had suffered such conspicuous defeats 
that though Commander-in-Chief of Axis forces in North Africa 
and still a great hero to the German public, he was now under the 
supervision of von Rundstedt. The delaying actions fought by 
Rommel and his skilful stall, assisted von Rundstedt in complet- 
ing his defence of southern Europe. Had Rommel not given this 
indirect aid to the larger operation, he could not have expected a 
single aeroplane or a single ton of supplies after his failures to 
stand at El Agheila, or Tripoli, or even the Mareth Line. From a 
tactical viewpoint he was lighting a lost battle, but every gun given 
him to carry on the fight in North Africa as long as possible meant 
more time for strengthening the advance guard that protected 
the European continent. 

By January 1943 von Rundstedt was practically the German 
resident-general in France, and the meagre authority of Petain 
and Laval, which had been reduced almost daily since the armis- 
tice, had now gone altogether. But while the power of command 
centred in von Rundstedt was so greatly increased,, and his re- 
sponsibility extended, there was no corresponding increase in the 

64 



VON RUNDSTEDT 

means by which his power could be applied. Consequently the 
German High Command was now obliged to rely more than ever 
on his skill and cunning. 

It was during this period that von Rundstedt made himself 
felt in Italy. He forced Mussolini to dismiss the commanders of 
the Aegean Isles, and make drastic changes in the administration 
of the Italian Army. The late Italian dictator's role in the fighting 
in North Africa and in other theatres of the war was not a very 
glorious one, and his dealings with German military leaders 
were certainly not of the smoothest. Rommel in his relations with 
the Italians never spared the feelings of Mussolini and his friends, 
and even his contempt was exceeded by von Runsdtedt's. In 
squaring Petain there had been something to lose by riding 
roughshod over dignity and self-respect, for the defeated can 
become awkward if driven to desperation ; but Mussolini's last 
hope of retaining his standing with the Italians depended on 
Germany's support. And von Rundstedt shared Kemal Attaturk's 
opinion of the Duce as 'the bull frog of the Pontine Marshes'. 

In conclusion it should be borne in mind that von Rundstedt 
holds the most responsible post in the German Army, a fact which 
in itself is indicative of the limitations of German armaments. 
The High Command has been obliged to gamble, to rely on his 
resource and skill because of the lack of adequate forces in the 
field. The writer, having personal knowledge of his military 
capacity and of the way in which his mind works, believes quite 
frankly that Hitler has backed the wrong horse. Time will show. 



65 



Field Marshal 
Ertvin Eugen Johannes Rommel 

A good part of the fame of most celebrated men is due 
to the short-sightedness of their admirers. 

G. C. LICHTENSTE1N, REFLECTIONS, 1799 

If Rommel were not so anxious to appear the pure Aryan blue- 
blooded Prussian officer he would fill the part more easily 
The role does not come naturally to him. His bearing is toe 
obviously assumed, his politeness, when he considers it is de- 
manded of him, is too ingratiating, and his peculiar, fitful arrog 
ance marks him as a man unsure of himself. 

All this induces self-consciousness, for he knows perfectly wel 
that his shortcomings cannot be concealed, and as a commande 
in the field such a man is bound to lose some of his power witl 
the common soldier. So it was that Goebbels' praise of him ii 
1941-2 found no echo among the rank and file of the Afrik; 
Korps. They knew him too well from experience : his behaviou 
was not what they expected from a German officer, and the 
made no secret of their opinion. 

There is nothing fine in Rommel's character. He can be bluffl 
genial, but his transparent pretentiousness soon loses the confic 
ence of men of any intelligence. So far from possessing re* 
religious feeling he flouts the susceptibilities of Catholics an 
Protestants alike. His contempt often amounted to blasphem 
when criticising the expense of the Church's work in the Arm; 
and he has allowed himself to ridicule the rites of a militai 
funeral. He even repudiated the Nordic Cult by which the Parl 
claimed to replace Christianity in Germany. 

There can be few who are ignorant of his insufferable condui 
in moments of victory, his bragging on the battlefield when thin; 
are going well for him : at El Alamein, for example, when tl 
Allies had yet to concentrate their scattered forces and arm 
He had not come within sight of Alexandria and Cairo, he said, 
be flung back again. He would take both those cities, and ] 

66 



ROMMEL 

would seize control of the Suez Canal. Premature success indeed 
went to Rommel's head in those days. 

He is Hitler's general in the purely literal sense of the term, as 
opposed to von Fritsch and von Rundstedt who are true products 
of the Imperial Army. He rose because he was tough and 
determined and because he contrived to get himself into the thick 
of affairs at a period when stress and change were everywhere and 
Hitler was looking for clever sword-sharpeners to help him further 
his own ruthless ends. If finance and not the army had had first 
place in the new regime, he might have been a company promoter. 

Rommel has had no social or financial advantages to help him. 
The exclusive circles of the Officers' Corps were never open to him 
in the early days ; he could not enter a crack regiment, and he was 
denied the benefit of a staff training because neither his education 
nor his intellectual qualifications fitted him for it. At the same 
time he was not in any way unsympathetic to the Prussian tradi- 
tion of terrorism and brutality, and he saw nothing distasteful 
in intriguing and scheming for the main chance, a policy which 
attracted the adventurers then composing the Nazi hierarchy. 
Hitler has always needed men like Rommel, especially when they 
nurse an inward grudge against the orthodox army caste which 
brooks no rivalry in governing Germany, not even from Hitler 
himself. 

Rommel was born on 15th November 1891 at Heidenheim in 
Wurttemberg in southern Germany, where his father was a 
teacher at the local grammar school. The boy went to the local 
school, and passed from one class to another with the assist- 
ance of his father, who had on more than one occasion to remind 
the director of the establishment that, after all, young Erwin was 
going to choose the army as a career, and that to become a sub- 
altern and to be pensioned off as a major he did not need all the 
education that was necessary for a civilian career. 

Rommel was not admitted to a cadet school, but was able to 
enter the Royal Wurttembergian Army as an ensign at the age of 
19 in 1910. Wurttemberg was known for a certain liberal inter- 
pretation of its recruiting regulations, and the standard required 
for commissions was not nearly so strict as it was, for example, in 
Prussia. 

67 



ROMMEL 

At the outbreak of the war in 1 914 he was a platoon commander 
in the 6th Wiirttemberg Infantry Regiment 'Konig Wilhelm I' 
No. 124, and was subsequently a battalion adjutant, with the rank 
of second lieutenant, but was refused permission to take General 
Staff courses for which he had applied. He was promoted first 
lieutenant in March 1915, when he was also decorated with the 
Iron Cross 1st Class for an exploit in the valley of Dieusson. The 
action of Dieusson has since been much advertised by the Berlin 
Propaganda Ministry as one of the first occasions when modem 
infantry tactics were used by the 'inventor' Rommel. What 
Rommel actually achieved was a simple outflanking movement. 
He commanded two platoons, and one morning he was ordered 
to lead a reconnaissance party to explore the ground in front of 
the German lines. While doing so he saw that the link between two 
French companies facing him was extremely weak, and he sent a 
few sections forward while he himself attacked on the other side of 
the French position, so creating some confusion behind the French 
front lines. The French company then surrendered, and Rommel 
received his Iron Cross 1st Class. It was by no means a rare 
performance, and was carried out over and over again during the 
last war by junior officers of both the Allied and German 
armies, with a difference that was not in Rommel's favour. In the 
successful action accredited to him, during which he was himself 
wounded, he lost 80 per cent of his men. 

Turned down by the German Flying Corps which he tried to 
join as an officer observer, he asked for a transfer to a Wurttem- 
bergian Alpine battalion, where he served in most of the opera- 
tional theatres of the war. He took part in the swift Rumanian 
campaign under the leadership of Field Marshal von Mackensen, 
(who reaped laurels won for him by his competent Chief of Staff, 
Lieut.-Colonel Hans von Seeckt), but found no opportunity 
of distinguishing himself in the field. During the later campaign 
in the Carpathians, he was in contact with Austrian formations 
similar to his own, and he has said that his experiences there filled 
him with a deep contempt for everything south of the German 
Reich. When in 1917 the great German-Austrian offensive (which 
finally resulted in the smashing Italian defeat at Caporetto) was 
prepared at the Isonzo, Rommel was transferred there with his 
speciaj Wiirttembergian Alpine troops. The shortage of officers 

68 



ROMMEL 

amongst these special troops was severe, and so it came about 
that the young first lieutenant Rommel commanded formations 
up to the strength of 17 companies. He was put temporarily in 
charge of what was known at that time as 'mixed formations', but 
was never given permanent battalion or regimental command. 

The devastating effects of the Caporetto defeat upon the Italian 
army are well known, and both German and Austrian formations 
made tens of thousands of prisoners in a few hours. It is therefore 
surprising to learn that Rommel was decorated with the highest 
German order for bravery, the Pour le Mfrite the equivalent of 
the British V.C. for the capture of 9,000 Italians who had been 
completely isolated on a hill. Now in this offensive it was cus- 
tomary to send back Italian prisoners with a small escort, and 
some 20 or 30 German or Austrian soldiers would escort up to 
three or four thousand Italians back to stations where they were 
collected and taken care of. But that was not the way of the 
careerist. Instead of sending his 9,000 Italians back in batches of 
two or three thousand, Rommel collected them and their equip- 
ment down to the last man and rifle, and then marched back the 
whole assembly, guarded by the major part of the operational 
troops in his mixed formation. His report to his senior officer was 
therefore impressive, and it was not noticed that the large escort 
he had employed had withdrawn much strength from the front 
line. Rommel's own reports on Caporetto show the value he placed 
on publicity even then. He does not underrate his achievements, 
nor conceal the low opinion he then formed of the fighting quali- 
ties of the Italians. 

After the demobilisation of the German Army in 1918-19 a 
man who could show nothing but a Pour le Merite for a particular 
action without consistent military success was not acceptable to 
the new Reichswehr leaders, who were very careful to go into the 
records of their new officers. In fact, there was an unwritten rule 
at that time that all officers up to the rank of lieutenant-colonel 
must have belonged to the former German Imperial General 
Staff. While they did duties as company or battalion command- 
ers their qualifications were noted in the 'Reichswehr Ministry in 
Berlin, and they were called upon to pass through their old 
General Staff training again, so that a nucleus of qualified staff 
officers was retained for future rearmament. There was no place 

69 



ROMMEL 

for Rommel in this exclusive clique, nor any chance of getting in 
by a back door as he had managed to do when trying to enter the 
more select army circles in his earlier days. The tradition of caste 
had thwarted him then, and now in addition he was up against a 
merciless insistence on efficiency. He was, however, to find an 
unexpected opening. 

Without a pension and without a job, he became a student at the 
technical high school of Tubingen. Nothing is known about his 
scientific attainments here, but he soon became conspicuous as 
leader of its first storm trooper section. He was in fact one of the 
first S.A. leaders in southern Germany. There was one occasion 
when, while acting in that capacity, he attracted Hitler's attention. 
The fighting formations of the Nazi Party were not very powerful 
then, and there was the chance that at any time when they entered 
a town to stage their political demonstrations they might meet 
serious opposition. The Chief S.A. commander, Hermann 
Goring, also a knight of the Pour le Merlte Order, was not 
noticeably successful in overcoming this difficulty, and the only 
place where the Party chief, Hitler, could speak was Munich, 
where in the beer cellars a more liberal atmosphere predominated. 
Hitler wanted to speak all over the country, and S.A. company 
leader Rommel provided him with his first opportunity. 

It was in 1922, on a Sunday morning, when a few hundred 
storm troopers under Rommel's leadership arrived at the small 
north Bavarian town of Coburg. Now he had a chance to 'play at 
strategy'. He surrounded the town, sent parties of shock troops 
into the streets, beat up the citizens who were just about to go to 
church, locked the local police in their own station, and then made 
everybody appear in the market square, where in the meantime 
Hitler had arrived. The future Fiihrer addressed the good citizens 
of Coburg in one of his temperamental orations, and they were 
then forced to line the pavement as spectators of the march past, 
which was led by Rommel, goose-stepping so well that Hitler 
remarked : That Pour le Merite storm trooper, isn't he every inch 
a perfect officer?' This was quickly conveyed to Rommel, who, 
however, was already in flight with his storm troopers to southern 
Bavaria. When police reinforcements arrived in Coburg not a 
single storm trooper could be found. They had disappeared as 
quickly as they had come, and though it was hardly a glorious 

70 



ROMMEL 

withdrawal both Hitler and Goring were elated by the idea that 
they had been the virtual dictators of Coburg for at least six 
hours, and were duly grateful to their little Storm Fuhrer Erwin 
Rommel. 

Rommel soon saw that a continuation of his activity as an organ- 
iser for Hitler's mass meetings under storm trooper 'protection' 
would at best get him a higher rank in that organisation. Undis- 
mayed by the rebuff he had received when he applied for a com- 
mission in the Reichswehr, his secret desire was still to join the 
Officers' Corps, and the more he was cold-shouldered the stronger 
became his ambition. He escaped from those groups that were 
dominated by minor Nazi officials and began dabbling in strategy. 
He joined the circle around General Ritter von Epp, a notable 
Bavarian military theorist, who had developed a scheme of 
strategy which was later to be adopted by the Reich. For this 
von Epp had the assistance of Professor Karl Haushofer. 

These men were especially interested in the question of the re- 
conquest of the former German colonies, and they looked at the 
globe with eyes that recognised no limit for Germany's sway. 
Their fantastic schemes formed exactly the background of senti- 
mental nationalist reaction with the help of which Hitler could 
expound before excited audiences his ever-changing and expand- 
ing popular bait of German world conquest. Among the Reichs- 
wehr leaders the Epp-Haushofer circle was regarded as a group of 
harmless lunatics who were allowed their liberty by an indulgent 
Government, though there were some, like Ritter von Leeb, the 
distinguished Bavarian strategist, who thought they should be 
locked up. 

One of the fantastic ideas of the group was the 'pillar' theory, 
which pictured Germany, England and America acting as the 
strategic pillars of the world, with the power, if united, to divide it 
between them. That was the official explanation given out by the 
circle. Unofficially they wanted to have a secret alliance between 
America and Germany to defeat Britain, and for them the next 
stage was that America should first be isolated by an all-powerful 
Germany, and later defeated by sea and air and finally by land 
on the American continent. 

Professor Haushofer published a series of books dealing with 
what were known as geo-politics, which were not quite as far- 

71 



ROMMEL 

fetched as the ideas which he put before Hitler and his followers. 
Though every German scientist of standing at that time refused 
to be drawn into a discussion with the professor, and, still more 
firmly, to have any social contacts with him, Rommel was his credu- 
lous pupil. Von Epp and Haushofer had seen visions that stirred 
him. On more than one occasion he went with Hitler to their 
meetings, from which both returned to Hitler's!* flat in Munich to 
talk and brood over what they had heard. 

Rommel was realist enough to see that after the collapse of the 
Beer Cellar putsch in 1923 it would be years at least before his 
ambitions could be realised. By pulling strings and by using 
whatever influence he could bring to bear, he contrived to be put 
on the official list of the Reichswehr Officers' Corps, though 
only in a group upon which the army would call when rapid 
expansion became possible. He also managed to be called up 
from time to time to serve in various regiments of the Reichs- 
wehr, and eventually he became a teacher of tactics at the 
infantry school in Dresden with the rank of major. Before that 
he served inconspicuously as a company commander in the 
Reichswehr. 

As major it was his task to teach junior officers how to 
command small units of platoon or even company strength. 
This was an admirable opportunity for personal publicity. He il- 
lustrated his tactical lessons and training from his memories of 
the field, and if he could not always give his audiences an example 
from his own experiences, he was quick to borrow from those of 
other officers about which he had read. All this helped to make 
him one of the most popular teachers at the training school. 
His lessons were not likely to be dull, for sometimes he would 
describe in colourful terms actions that in more than one instance 
had taken place only in his imagination. 

He was duly given a battalion and was made a lieutenant- 
colonel. By hard work he had built up a useful reputation, for the 
officers who had passed through his hands were full of admiration 
for him as a man who understood young men and was not a 
stickler for form. 

In the meantime political developments favoured Rommel 
extremely well. He knew how to remind Hitler of his presence. 
The storm troop leader of the early twenties had now 

72 



ROMMEL 

the officer fully versed in modern military science that, at least? 
was what he claimed in front of his Fuhrer and Hitler was 
impressed. It was not advisable for the German leader to associ- 
ate himself with von Epp and Haushofer officially, for that might 
have caused unrest among foreign diplomats, but he often re- 
ceived Rommel at Berchtesgaden, where in the so-called Strate- 
gisches Zimmer (strategical room), the two played at world con- 
quest. Rommel being able to contribute at that time enough 
technical knowledge to deal with any question of Hitler's. Both 
men were regarded by senior regular army officers as imitative 
boys who had to play with something military, if not with tin 
soldiers then with large maps. In a private memorandum to Hitler 
Rommel wrote: 'Our panzers will draw broad bloody gashes all 
over the map of the world like the knife of a surgeon. They will 
tear tracks of death despite all resistance/ Huge maps covered the 
walls of this room, and Hitler's personal A.D.C., Brueckner, was 
busy with large quantities of red ink marking the 'death tracks'. 
Hitler may have wondered where this was leading him, and few of 
his intimate friends were allowed to see the room, certainly not 
representatives of foreign countries or foreigners. He may 
have felt it wise to conceal his mind before potential victims; 
he certainly feared ridicule cver> more than Mussolini did, and 
violently hated those who showed it. 

These intimate conferences gave Rommel courage to seek 
positions of greater influence. It was impossible for a lieutenant- 
colonel to apply for entrance to any regular general staff exam- 
ination, but he could claim to have made special studies of modern 
armoured warfare, and he applied for employment in that branch. 
Given a test he failed miserably, and complained bitterly to his 
Fuhrer, who consoled him with promises for the future. 

Though at that time, in 1935, he did not win the recognition 
he sought, he gained valuable knowledge of other officers who 
had faced the examination board with him. He made a record of 
their qualifications, and jeeringly told them that the time would 
come when, in spite of the army bureaucracy, he would be their 
commander-in-chief, hinting that he would know how to use 
other influence a reference, of course, to his intimacy with 
Hitler. 

Under the rules and regulations of any army, Rommel's 

73 



ROMMEL 

career should now have come to an end. He could not expect 
to reach high rank by normal channels, but instead he secured 
a position of considerable personal value to him, though of 
no military importance; he became a liaison officer between 
the regular army and the Hitler Youth. This was a useless step in 
the career of an officer as such, for the members of the Hitler 
Youth would automatically be drafted into the Reich's Labour 
Service, and from there into the army, leaving officers attached 
to the organisation at a dead end. Knowing the limitations of the 
appointment, Rommel, in his capacity as expert on German 
youth recruitment, attended conferences that were presided over 
by corps and group commanders. The elderly generals were 
fully aware that they had to deal with an out-and-out Party 
member, and though discounting his military aspirations they 
could not entirely ignore his considerable political influence. 
During this period he wrote a book called Infantry Attacks 
which was put on the official Army list of recommended training 
books. It is a compilation of material which the titular author 
was able to collect while he was teacher at the infantry school in 
Dresden. 

He received the appointment of full colonel on Hitler's direct 
order, and was put in charge of the Fuhrer's headquarters, where 
by this time the conviction prevailed that war might break out at 
any time. When Austria was occupied Rommel left his duties at 
headquarters to become commandant of the Austrian military 
school at Wiener Neustadt. Here he bore himself with the arrog- 
ance of a man who saw himself not only as the confidential 
adviser of Hitler but also his prospective right hand in future 
military operations on a large scale, and the rising generation of 
Austrian officers saw no reason to question his pretensions. 

Throughout this period Rommel had had opportunity to make 
himself acquainted with an operational plan of the German High 
Command called 'Plan Sud' (Plan South). This plan was a direct 
result of the closer military collaboration that followed the com- 
pletion of the Axis alliance treaty between Italy and Germany, 
and it was the basis of German military assistance to Italian 
operations in North Africa. Its founder and early executant was 
the German General Tschmirer. Hitler had been aware of 
Rommel's interest in colonial expansion from the early days of 

74 



ROMMFL 

the Epp-Haushofer school, and now urged that Rommel should 
be permitted to study the more concrete results of General Staff 
work in Berlin. His demand was so far effective that when von 
Brauchitsch went to Libya in 1937, Rommel was attached to his 
staff. The Italian Governor General of North Africa, Marshal 
Balbo, said on that occasion, The Nazis are now sending us even 
their future inspectors.' Von Brauchitsch returned disappointed 
about Italian military preparations. Rommel obtained special 
4 sick leave', and used it to see Benghazi, Derna, Tobruk, and 
Bardia, through which he travelled by car, having refused an 
aeroplane that was offered him by the Italian Army authorities. 
He went on to make a close inspection of defence works in Sicily 
and southern Italy, and after that he turned civilian and went as 
a tourist to Egypt, where people heard of Herr Rommel, a sick 
German, travelling all over the Suez Canal region and, again by 
motor car, in the direction of Cyrenaica. 

Returning to Germany he had long conferences with Hitler, 
whom he convinced that General Tschmirer's preparations for 
the so-called German Desert Corps were unrealistic and in- 
adequate. Tschmirer remained in command, but he had to adopt 
a good part of Rommel's plans, which resulted in the most 
elaborate preparations ever given to the special expeditionary 
force of any army. The Propaganda Ministry prepared opinion 
inside Germany by means of a great campaign for the recovery of 
the lost German colonies. General Ritter von Epp, who had 
been given the lucrative but not very influential position of 
Reichs Governor of Bavaria, became the chief of the Nazi Party 
colonial office. At first it seemed that this new propaganda cam- 
paign was started simply to give von Ribbentrop something to 
bargain with when negotiating with the Allied Governments, and 
especially with Great Britain. 

The army, however, thought and acted with larger aims. Two 
special training centres and two training grounds were founded in 
Germany. Schleswig Holstein had one, Bavaria the other, and in 
both the barracks and training halls were adapted to tropical 
conditions. By a mixture of steam and heated air, the soldier, as 
far as was possible by artificial means, was acclimatised to 
tropical conditions. Special equipment down to the smallest 
detail was tried out again and again, and special diets were 

75 



ROMMEL 

provided by the medical staff of the Hamburg Tropical Disease 
Institute, which also supplied the nucleus of the medical per- 
sonnel attached to this 'Desert Corps', as it was known at 
that time. Soldiers undergoing the training had to subsist on a 
minimum of drinking water, and the selection boards had their 
hands full sifting out the candidates. Difficulties in the main- 
tenance of health were immediately experienced. The soldiers, 
unused to an ersatz tropical climate, developed boils and skin 
trouble of a peculiar type, and experiments with vitamin pills 
and other medicaments led to special food lozenges. 

Another test imposed was equally severe. To the wild sand 
dunes of eastern Pomerania near the little port of Leba, to East 
Prussia and to the long dunes guarding the HafT lakes, huge vans 
transported apparatus for the production of artificial dust and 
sand storms. Sand-proof casings for the engines and the in- 
terior of the tanks were gradually developed. The strength of 
this Corps amounted roughly to less than one division, that is, 
10,000 officers and men. 

This new branch of the army was not at first obvious enough in 
its importance to interest Rommel. He accompanied Hitler during 
the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in his old post at Hitler's head- 
quarters, which in its travelling form had a remarkably compre- 
hensive scheme of protection for which he was mainly responsible. 
He is credited with having had the idea of a dual general head- 
quarters, that is, one that could be transported by rail in five trains 
with mounted anti-aircraft guns and armour plating, comprising 
a battalion for guard duties, a large train of wagons specially 
constructed for map tables, in addition to Hitler's own private 
wagons and guest cars for generals and foreign visitors. A less 
imposing expression of this design did, in fact, appear in the 
shape of flying general headquarters for which twelve huge 
Junkers troop-carriers were converted to provide the accom- 
modation that would have been found in the train, with the differ- 
ence that anti-aircraft and guard protection was unnecessary and 
effective protection was given by a strong fighter screen. 

Rommel served in the same capacity in the campaign in Poland, 
and took care that the Fiihrer did not endanger his precious life. 
Such care seems to have been necessary here owing to an un- 
wonted recklessness on Hitler's part. As soon as he saw the con- 

76 



ROMMEL 

centrated German armed forces making good progress, his 
curiosity for a time led him to discard his usually morbid 
anxiety for his personal safety and to hurry forward to get 
a good view of the process of that annihilation of the Polish 
nation which he had publicly decreed. Rommel's precautions, 
however, did not go unrewarded. He was appointed general in 
command of a Panzer division, which was later to play a con- 
spicuous part in the defeat of France. 

He had arrived. He left the insignificant post of Hitler's personal 
attendant to take command in the field, and later, with increasing 
responsibility, to experience a considerable run of luck. With rapid 
promotion to the highest rank, he felt compensated at last for the 
lack of staff training that had been denied him. It is no mere 
coincidence that Rommel commanded the leading Panzer division 
in the Army Group A in the west, the group that under the com- 
mand of Field Marshal von Rundstedt broke through and finally 
outflanked the Maginot Line. Von Rundstedt's manoeuvre 
opened the way for vast and spectacular advances by mechanised 
formations, and Rommel, pushed forward by Hitler, Goebbels 
and Himmler, reaped a good deal of the credit, though he was 
only executing tactical measures under the direction of corps, 
army and group commanders. It was his 7th Panzer division which 
claimed for itself the nickname of 'phantom division' because of 
its speedy advance. Among its exploits was the capture in the 
market square of the little French town of St. Valery-en-Caux of 
eight generals and 25,000 men, the majority of whom belonged to 
the B.E.F. For Rommel this prize was ^.-^fcWS^ftB^ a stroke in 
the fortunes of war, for it was inevita]?>#^^^ 
and senior officers among them/x^woWd ^tcr taEOT^onte von 
Rundstedt's circumspect plan 

Making the most of his pers< 
mandeered a heavy 32-tonner ta 
The man in charge of the mot 
his Panzer division was Georg 
famous Chancellor and a well- 
which Rommel had claimed to 
German Army. Aware that if it 
tainly not prove the expert he ^ 

use of one of his signal gifts, proceeded to ta 

77 



al ^^rogptjy 



tyes, Rommel 
his owri us &n< 
infamy iiicofrporajibd 

^descend 
ai^expert on the j 
ding sge 



^von Bismarck's 



ROMMEL 

measure and estimate his true value. He enlisted his services for 
his own purposes. Von Bismarck was subsequently allowed to 
complete his knowledge under field conditions in the Russian 
campaign, but was earmarked for service under Rommel in 
North Africa. Meanwhile the campaign in France had brought 
Rommel the coveted decoration of the Knight's Cross of the 
Iron Cross. 

With Italy's entry into the war the larger German plans for 
North Africa were brought into use. Marshal Graziani received 
his overwhelming defeat at the hands of General Wavell. The 
Italian performance in the war in the west had been inglorious. 
Their advance along the French Riviera was more a stage affair 
than a military operation, exposing nothing but Mussolini's mean 
spirit of revenge for mortification at the hands of a more powerful 
neighbour, and Graziani's defeat showed that the Italian war 
machine was unequal to a really severe test, though the Italian 
General Staff contained a limite<i number of officers who could, 
and can compete with any of their opposite numbers in the 
German or Allied armies. 

These more competent Italian soldiers, however, had little 
chance then of putting their ideas into practice, and the hopeless 
position in which Italy found herself after the defeat of Graziani 
made the entrance of the German Desert Corps, which by 1941 
had been re-named the Afrika Korps, all the more spectacular. 
General Tschmirer had been relieved of the command, and 
Rommel took over. 

The preparations of the German General Staff for this expedi- 
tion had been very thorough, as has been seen, and Rommel 
chose his generals with understanding of what he needed. With 
carte blanche given him by Hitler, he was able to select some of 
the best men in the German Army. General Ritter von Thoma, 
one of the few higher officers who had gained experience during the 
civil war in Spain, was fully capable of conducting operations in 
the entire North African sphere himself, but he had to serve as 
field commander of the Korps under Rommel's major direction. 
Supply Chief Cruewell was an expert in his job, Georg von Bis- 
marck had proved himself under Rommel in France; and 
Generals Schmidt, von Ravensberg and Stumme had all won con- 
fidence in the German Army. With all this went an extremely 

78 



ROMMEL 

strong air umbrella, later under the command of Field Marshal 
Kesselring, against which, at the outset, the R.A.F. could do 
little. 

Rommel's attack and the British counter-attack in 1941 did 
not change the situation decisively. Then in 1942, with another 
expeditionary force and an almost completely independent com- 
mand, he advanced up to El Alamein. The advance showed 
perfect staff work and first class collaboration between the 
various branches of his force. 

When he had reached El Alamein Rommel was at the height of 
his career. He returned to Berlin, and in the presence of Hitler 
faced a huge audience in the Sports Palace, where the spontan- 
eous enthusiasm with which he was received was noticeable beside 
the controlled greetings accorded to the Fiihrer. In fact it seemed 
that Dr. Goebbels had slightly overdone the Rommel propaganda 
inside Germany. But it was all in the interest of the Nazi Party 
and of Hitler himself that a man renowned as a Nazi should be 
acclaimed before all Germany, so that the growing reputation of 
the other generals of the regular army should at least not gain in 
comparison. 

On 3rd October 1942 Rommel said to a party of foreign 
journalists : 

To-day we stand 100 kilometres from Alexandria and hold 
the gateway of Egypt, with the full intention of getting there, too. 
We have not got so far with any intention of being flung back 
either sooner or later. You may rely on our holding fast to what 
we have got . . .' 'American material,' he added, 'is of no 
particular importance, although the new American tanks are 
much improved weapons.' 

It is curious to learn that this former storm trooper thug, who 
had shown no compunction in participating in the brutalities of 
Hitler's gang, complained in the same interview about the 
'Maoris, head-hunters and such troops in the Eighth Army', 
and of their 'unfair fighting methods'. Possibly Rommel had 
a glimpse of the shape of things to come, and thought that as a 
Field Marshal a tone of discrimination would be becoming, and 
perhaps provide him with a loop-hole through which to escape 
indictment? 

In his advance towards the El Alamein position it became ob- 

79 



ROMMEL 

vious to Rommel that his Italian allies were neither accustomed to 
the pace set then nor willing to accept the century-old slogan : 
Travaillez pour le roi de Prusse', which was painfully enforced on 
them in this campaign. It was the unfailing irony of fate that 
the man who had dismissed Italian military claims as nonsense, 
and who had been convinced in the last war that the Italian was 
never a match for any decent soldier of any nation, was now im- 
pelled to issue a special secret order endorsed: "To Officers On1y\ 
This order read : 

'The Germans have always been good soldiers, therefore 
they must not boast. Still less must they belittle the achieve- 
ments of the soldiers of other countries. 

'The Italian, of course, is not quite the same as the German 
soldier, the former having his own peculiarities. He is a differ- 
ent human being. Therefore it would be wrong to judge him by 
German standards. 

k He lights as well as he can that must be appreciated. It is 
unworthy to laugh at our ally, and to talk about his softness. 
We must try to see his good points.' 

Though this secret order was apparently issued as some sort of 
protection for the Italians, it had an entirely different meaning a 
few weeks later when Rommel showed, even in action, what he 
really thought of his allies, and how much he despised them. He 
had the average German feeling towards the Italians, who are 
considered by the German to be as much *non- Aryan' as the Jew, 
the Arab, the Japanese, and everybody else who has not the com- 
plexion of the schoolgirl and the hair of the blonde beast. The 
Germans do not always approach this ideal themselves, but their 
spokesmen excuse their less 'nordic' compatriots as being of the 
inevitable mixture that resulted from the thousand-year-old 
migration of tribes through central Europe. To the nations that 
are not so fortunate as to be even of this mixture they are quick 
to add the stigma of 'filthy, lazy, mentally degenerate Southerner', 
a propagandist projection that has now become fixed in the mind 
of the Nazi-schooled German. 

Meanwhile Rommel, always avid for publicity, and certain of 
the backing of the past-master in that art in Berlin, Dr. Goebbels, 
neglected no means of increasing his popularity in Germany. By 
this time a rumour had spread through the German and Italian 

80 



ROMMEL 

rank and file in Africa that Rommel was by no means the grand 
master of strategy he claimed to be. On various occasions, when 
decisions of great significance had to be taken, he was neither 
at his headquarters nor could he be reached by his staff. He had 
simply disappeared in the desert to inspect units on the march, 
and possibly to take the salute of the troops he visited a cere- 
mony of which he always liked to be the centre, conscious, no 
doubt, when his troops goose-stepped past him, even in the middle 
of the desert, that he was the German general most in the public 
eye. These distrustful murmurings became so persistent that one 
of the younger officers in his immediate entourage broadcast on 
the Berlin radio an account of Rommel's personal activities that 
was intended to dispose of criticism and at the same time to give 
some explanation of the conspicuous absence of the Commander- 
in-Chief at certain grave moments, absences which by that time 
could no longer be denied. Lieutenant Bcrndt gave this account. 
'We of the Afrika Korps call him the General of the High 
Road. He is in the desert literally from dawn until late at night. 
He does not direct operations from a desk in headquarters 
that is what he has his staff officers for but he is always seeing 
for himself, experiencing things himself, and personally in- 
fluencing his troops. A few radio communications, an improv- 
ised wire, connects him with his headquarters. He is also a 
wizard at map reading. Rommel's ability to change his deci- 
sions at a moment's notice whenever the enemy gives him a 
chance is what characterises him most. There are times when 
he drives his commanders to exasperation by changing his 
decisions. Once he actually changed his mind ten or eleven 
times, and countermanded a previous order during a single 
battle.' 

A corroboration of this broadcast impression came from 
Cairo, when Lieutenant Otto von Tiedemann, a war correspon- 
dent captured by the Eighth Army, spoke of his experiences whilst 
he was attached to Rommel's headquarters for four weeks. 

In Lieutenant Berndt's broadcast, though it had a different 
purpose, we can divine the real Rommel. There is truth in what 
Berndt said, but the freedom of movement exercised by Rommel, 
is appropriate to a divisional Panzer commander, not to 
the Commander-in-Chief of an entire theatre of operations 

81 F 



ROMMEL 

who, by the nature of his appointment, has to be chief of the 
High Command, Chief of the General Staff, and Army Group 
Commander in one person. These mercurial characteristics of the 
general had their merit, and there was great value in them when 
exercised in their appropriate place ; for instance, when he was 
called upon to fight only armoured battles in the centre of Cyren- 
aica, where they won him a great victory. 

But in the course of that battle in North Africa, the Com- 
mander-in-Chief of the Axis expeditionary force was never called 
upon to give decisions that went beyond the tactical issue of the 
moment. As soon as it was over, and he had to decide the broader 
issues of strategy, he exposed his limitations. He still saw only 
the immediate gain, which was Tobruk. He had another success, 
it is true, but it was a tactical one. He won the port of Tobruk, 
and lost the strategic victory that might have been won by the 
immediate pursuit of the retreating Eighth Army. 

Immediately before the battle of El Alamein he failed again to 
grasp the larger issue. His attempt to pierce our defences and to 
outflank us from the south were not the operations of a first class 
general. Every diversionary trick played against him by Generals 
Alexander and Montgomery succeeded. Dummy tank battalions 
or faked movements of bodies of troops were always taken by 
Rommel for the real thing. 

Once checked in his advance, he prepared four positions in 
which he might repel the opening attack. His plan of defence 
was too simple in conception. Massing Panzer divisions at the 
northern and southern ends of his position, and leaving a weak 
infantry nucleus (inevitably Italian) in the centre, he intended 
to draw us on to his weak position, and then to close on us 
from the north and the south with his armoured forces. That 
this scheme did not work out was not surprising, considering 
the qualities of the Allied generals who opposed him, and 
it makes understandable the criticism voiced against him by 
his second-in-command, General Ritter von Thoma, who, like 
other Afrika Korps generals, saw that Rommel was more con- 
cerned with trying to steal his thunder than with planning cir- 
cumspect military operations. It is not enough to have the quali- 
fications of a professor of tactics at a military college, or to have in 
one's grasp all the personal strings at the Fiihrer's Chancellery, 

82 



ROMMEL 

or to cruise the desert in a private car and enjoy the camp life ; 
the place of the Commander-in-Chief is at his headquarters, 
where he can control developments from minute to minute, and 
not in the first or second line of battle, where he can only deal 
with tactical details. 

General Dan Pienaar, the Commander of the South African 
Springboks in the Middle East theatre, once said of Rommel, 
'I don't consider him clever or cunning, but he is determined and 
tenacious'. When Rommel suffered his reverse at Alamein this 
opinion was shown to be well-founded. With brutal ruthlessness 
scarcely equalled even in German military history, he left behind 
the majority of the Italian infantry, without transport, without 
water, without medical supplies, hopelessly abandoned in the 
scorching desert under a blazing sun. These allies of his became 
mere cattle in the face of the imperative need to save his German 
troops, conduct which ill became his knighthood of the Order 
Pour le Merite. Possibly he had calculated that the 'soft' British 
generals would allow themselves to be diverted to the south to 
capture these Italians. It must have been a surprise to him to find 
that his opposite numbers understood the situation only too well, 
and felt quite confident of bagging the Italian division in the south, 
or what was left of them, in their own time. 

Rommel then started on his two thousand miles retreat into 
Tunisia, and here even the most trustworthy military critics have 
exaggerated the military skill he was called upon to exercise. An 
examination of the retreat down to the smallest tactical detail 
forces one to the conclusion that Rommel did nothing whatever, 
and that the pauses which occurred were deliberately chosen by 
Generals Alexander and Montgomery for the sake of their supply 
systems. The ideal natural positions at El Agheiia and at the salt 
lakes of Misurata, the considerable artificial defences at Tripoli 
proper all these were opportunities that Rommel missed, only 
to continue his flight whenever General Montgomery's disposi- 
tions indicated business. 

The fighting in the Mareth Line proper has been wrongly inter- 
preted for some time. The official report of the Italian Marshal 
Messe, who commanded the 1st Italian Army at Alamein, and 
who was again in command of a considerable force of Italians 
at Mareth, throws some light on Rommel's grasp of the situation. 

83 



ROMMEL 

Messe complains that when he had repulsed the first frontal 
attack by the Eighth Army he was in an admirable position to 
meet any further attacks, and he protested to Rommel as Com- 
mander-in-Chief against orders that he should withdraw imme- 
diately. And naturally Messe also complains that when once this 
order was given none of the motor transport was ready to get 
the troops out. It had long before been taken by the Germans 
themselves. What Marshal Messe probably did not see is the fact 
that with all his vaunted genius Rommel could not make up his 
mind, and that he fell back on the practice of coming to a de- 
cision hour by hour which he had applied so successfully during 
tactical tank battles at Sir Hacheim, 'Knightsbridgc' and Sidi 
Rezegh. But in this case it resulted in an up-and-down movement 
of his armour between the Maknassy-El Guettar sectors and the 
eastern part of the Marcth Line. 

Here was Rommel's opportunity to show whether he was 
the man that Dr. Goebbels in Berlin had claimed him to be. 
One who knew him personally, who knew his capacity for 
blufT and his pose as a master of strategy to be a pretence, in spite 
of his brilliant tactical knowledge, realised that he was bound to 
fail. His Italian allies could be certain only of one thing: that they 
would be left behind as an addition to the minefields that were 
sown in the path of the Allied advance. 

This must have had the very worst effect on the Italian people, 
who already resented the arrogance of the German Luftwaffe 
and Gestapo and S.S. officers as well as the German regular army 
officers who were gradually commandeering the whole of Italy 
as a base. Italy was always recognised as the weakest link in the 
Axis structure, and Rommel's treatment of the Italians during his 
African campaign, and his frequent expressions of disgust, 
despite his secret orders to his officers, must have done much to 
weaken that link further. 

For in Rommel the Italians had to deal with a man who was 
suffering continuously from an inflamed sense of inferiority, 
based on the knowledge, of which in early days he had been so 
often reminded, that he did not belong to the army caste and 
that he could imitate it only in arrogance and cock-sureness. In 
spite of the rank and power that had been given him by another 
man whose character was even more acutely warped by an inferi- 

84 



ROMMEL 

ority complex, Rommel still smarted under Field Marshal von 
Rundstedt's reference to him as 'that cloven who commands the 
Adolf Hitler circus' (Hitler's travelling G.H.Q.). 

Before an audience mainly composed of German Army officers 
and rank and file he had a modicum of discretion and con- 
sideration, but the Italian atmosphere proved too much for 
him and stimulated him to show the Prussian character at its 
worst. Perhaps nothing leaves a truer picture of the man than his 
conduct during a visit to a captured British field hospital, where 
German and British doctors were working together in tending 
the wounds of British and German soldiers. It is understood that 
on such occasions each commander-in-chief should not only 
address his own chief medical officers but never omit to have a 
word or two with the enemy's. Rommel made a point of ignoring 
the British M.O.s completely, expecting thereby to impress the 
Italian officers on his staff. Later history will show that the effect 
was the opposite of what he had intended it to be. 



85 



Field MorsM Erfcanl Milch 

In the ordinary business of life, industry can do anything which 
genius can do, and very many things which it cannot. 

H. W. BEECHER, PROVERBS FROM PLYMOUTH PULPIT, 1870. 

Field Marshal Erhard Milch was born on 30th March 1892 
in Wilhelmshaven. His father, the owner of a retail chemist 
business, became Quarter-Master General for Medical Stores 
during the last war. Milch senior thus had a general's rank, 
though within the German Army his position was of less con- 
sequence than that of the Accountant General, who used to 
rank lowest inside the German War Office. 

Having passed his matriculation in 1910 the future Field 
Marshal became an ensign in the 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment 
at Konigsberg in East Prussia, and in August 1911 he was made a 
lieutenant in that regiment, the rank he still held at the outbreak 
of the war. Milch had chosen a heavy artillery regiment because he 
was keenly interested in technical problems, which he could 
master better in such a formation than anywhere else. But that 
did not satisfy his mind, and in 1915 he successfully applied 
for a transfer to the Imperial German Air Force. Here again the 
technical side, such as navigation and observation, interested him 
more than the spectacular duties of the fighter squadrons that 
were then gaining their first laurels. He became a recon- 
naissance flyer, mainly occupied in directing and supervising 
artillery fire. Promoted first lieutenant, he became chief of 
the reconnaissance formations 5 and 204 and later of the pursuit 
group No. 6. He then secured one of the rarest appointments 
inside the German Imperial Army Air Force, that of Air General 
Staff Officer attached to higher staffs as air specialist. This appoint- 
ment brought him the rank of captain in 1918. 

By that time Milch was known as a circumspect and careful 
planner and an industrious, capable and ambitious young officer ; 
and it was these qualities that led to his quick promotion at an 
early age. Malicious tongues have claimed that young Milch, 
not greatly attracted to the more dangerous duties of active 
flying had, to get this appointment, used all his father's influence 
and pulled the correct string in the appropriate quarter. The 

86 



MILCH 

apothecary's flying son' he was nick-named by some of his fellow 
officers, especially by those who had been seconded from the 
cavalry. It is established, however, that the same officers were 
greatly impressed by the organising abilities of the twenty-six 
year old captain. 

After the Armistice thousands of German pilots had no 
opportunity of carrying on their profession, not even within the 
restrictions that were imposed on the infantry, cavalry or 
artillery officer, for officially the German Flying Corps was to 
be disbanded. Milch, however, managed to become commanding 
officer of a flying organisation attached to the semi-legal 'Grenz- 
schutz' (Border Defence Corps), a predecessor of the Reichswehr. 
In the special art of camouflage then being pursued by generals 
and general staff officers commanding the ground forces of the 
semi-official corps, the art of disguising from Allied inspectors the 
actual strength of a corps, young Milch was worthy of his teachers. 

When the existence of this post-war flying corps came to an 
end Milch sought an opening with the civil air organisations that 
were then springing up like mushrooms. He first studied economics 
at the University of Konigsberg and at the technical high school 
of Danzig, and his perhaps innate grasp of commercial essentials 
was thus developed into a wide knowledge that was to be in- 
valuable to him in his future career. 

He then joined a private commercial company, the Lloyd- 
Ostflug, the first civil air company in eastern Germany, and 
became a chief organiser for the Danzig air mail service. By the 
end of 1920, when many of his former brother officers were 
unemployed and, like Gftring, were trying their luck as com- 
manding officers of smaller or larger illegal armed formations, 
the 28-year-old Milch was managing director of the 'Danziger 
Luftpost'. In 1923 he became a technical director of the Junkers 
Air Traffic Company, at that time the most important air trans- 
port firm in Germany. The Junkers works were compelled to run 
their own air transport company because they had little chance 
of finding buyers for the aircraft produced in their own factory. 
Milch was President of the Commission that merged a number of 
smaller German air transport companies with the Junkers Com- 
pany, which appeared in 1926 as the well-known Lufthansa Limited, 
and was later to become Germany's foremost air transport concern. 

87 



MILCH 

Grave allegations were made about this time against Milch 
as managing director of the new air trust. He was accused of 
having had, in some manner not specified, financial transactions 
involving the consolidation of shares of the smaller companies, 
and of making a considerable profit for himself. Less precise, 
but equally grave in their implications, were charges-that Milch 
accepted commissions from certain aircraft factories, in return 
for which, it was understood, he would close his eyes to the secur- 
ity measures that were necessary for aircraft transporting passen- 
gers. None of these charges was brought to court, but it is signifi- 
cant of their serious origin that such an important newspaper 
as the democratic Berliner Tageblatt identified itself with the 
accusers. 

During the years 1924-26 Milch was a kind of commercial am- 
bassador travelling to South America and the United States to 
study air lines there and to try to secure interests for German air 
companies, and by 1927-28 he could claim that the German air 
lines had outgrown their infancy. The Junkers at Dessau were 
producing air liners that were both reliable and economical in 
their upkeep, heavy machines that could carry a considerable 
amount of freight or passengers. 

The Reichswehr was faced with a problem of its own. Though 
illegal rearmament of ground forces had been going on steadily 
for some time, no secret activity in air rearmament had been found 
possible. Any commitments in this direction would have been too 
conspicuous to be concealed under any cloak. It was necessary 
to look for something entirely outside the actual organisation of 
the Reichswehr Ministry, and in the eyes of the schemers Milch 
and the Lufthansa had qualified themselves for such a task. It 
might have been noticed then that a great part of the Army and 
Navy budget of the Republican Reichswehr was designated as 
'transferable'. The meaning of this term never became com- 
pletely clear to the average German, and even foreign powers and 
their observers whose business it was to recognise the direction 
of German Government expenditure, did not see, or did not choose 
to see, through this financial blind of the Accountant Depart- 
ment of the Reichswehr Ministry. Transferable' meant nothing 
less than that, though the Watch Committee of Parliament might 
allot millions for specified branches of the armed ground forces, 

88 



MILCH 

the officers responsible were quite at liberty to use part of these 
funds for a purpose not specified. 

Here Milch's adroitness found an opening again. As he himself 
has said, he could fwith the application of a spanner transform 
Junkers aircraft engaged on civil duties into bombers almost over- 
night'. Such a process, of course, was not as simple as all that, 
and production on a large scale needed money, so much money, 
in fact, that no private company could have undertaken the task. 
The Reichswehr stepped in with its 'transferable' funds. Quite 
apart from this illegal movement of money, certain civilian 
departments of the German Government were willing to assist 
the Lufthansa, though not with the same purpose as that of the 
Reichswehr, and probably without the full knowledge of it. 

Milch knew how to use in air armament all the money he could 
lay his hands on. He did not dabble in politics as did many of 
his former brother officers. Content to be regarded by the Reichs- 
wehr as a reliable nationalist, he nevertheless took care not to 
emphasise that reputation, for he had a great competitor in Dr. 
Hugo Eckener, who was extensively financed by the civilian 
departments of the German Government. Dr. Eckener, who 
constructed Zeppelins, was a Democrat and also had great 
popular support, and although Milch was all for the German 
people being made air-minded, as he called it, he was scornful of 
the many millions sunk in Eckener's enterprise, which he con- 
sidered useless for any future military purpose. The Reichswehr 
agreed with him, and, therefore, if he was not to be defeated in com- 
petition with this favourite of the Government, he had to adopt 
at least a rather colourless political position. This did -not prevent 
him from secretly having the closest contact with Hermann 
Goring, distinguished as an airman in the last war and one of 
Hitler's chief lieutenants in the internal political struggle for 
power. 

Goring regarded himself as the champion of anything con- 
nected with air organisation in the Nazi Party, but, as always, 
he also knew his own limitations. He knew, for example, that he 
could not command a fraction of the organising talent possessed 
by the ambitious, industrious and intelligent young Milch. He had 
noticed, too, that this young man had little political ambition, 
and was probably the best office-boy for the Nazis that could be 

89 



MILCH 

found. Therefore, when G5ring managed to obtain an appoint- 
ment as Reichs Commissar for Air on the occasion of the forming 
of the first National Socialist Cabinet in January 1933, he was 
quick to appoint the managing director of the Lufthansa, Milch, to 
be Secretary of State under his command. 

The Treaty of Versailles, though continuously broken by 
Germany in secret, had not yet been repudiated, and if Hitler had 
then openly flouted one of its most important clauses under which 
any German air force was prohibited, foreign governments and 
peoples would have been less easily deceived by his profession of 
'peaceful intentions'. Goring and Milch therefore devised a 
scheme by which they hoped gradually to accustom foreign nations 
to the idea that Germany was developing an air force of her own. 
This policy of little by little succeeded, for the few who foresaw 
its consequences were unheeded. The N.S.F.K., the National 
Socialist Flying Corps, seemed an innocent beginning, and as an 
enlarged flying club of the Nazi Party it caused no alarm. Yet 
here was the embryo of the Luftwaffe. The N.S.F.K. sent its 
flying aces to international air races, where they took part in 
balloon competitions, and it was busy in many other fields throw- 
ing sand in the eyes of foreign governments. Financial aid from 
the German Government was on a lavish scale. The departments 
of the Reichswehr which had collaborated with Milch during the 
years before Hitler came into power were now busier than ever in 
preparing for the air force to come. 

When Hitler declared the rearmament of the Reich to the 
world, and announced the creation of a German Luftwaffe, 
Milch, by now a colonel, was again Secretary of State under 
Reichs Minister Goring. Conscious of the necessity of somehow 
justifying the breaches of the Versailles Treaty, GSring and 
Milch, some years before the official appearance of the Luftwaffe, 
had started a campaign that was at once to create a sense of wrong 
inside Germany and to arouse sympathy outside. It was propa- 
ganda that succeeded completely at home (and too well abroad). 
Hence the formula of the 'shameful Treaty of Versailles', the 
attempt to recover national pride by reference to 'hopelessly out- 
numbered German armed forces', the effrontery of the assertion 
that Germany did not possess a single aeroplane for military 
purposes before 1935. All this prepared popular ground, both 

90 



MILCH 

at home and abroad, for the sudden appearance in 1935 of an 
enormous Air Ministry and a huge staff for the Lutfwaffe. Goring 
took a great deal of the credit for this organisation, but it was 
Milch who had laid the foundation years before. No one inside 
or outside Germany believed that such a huge administration, 
which was to be the brains of the expansion and direction of the 
Luftwaffe, could have been built up within two years. - 

It is well to remember that on 3 1st January 1933 Goring had 
become Commissar for Air; on 5th May 1933 the Air Ministry 
was formed, and on 1st March 1935 the Luftwaffe announced its 
existence officially. 

Milch was now more careful than ever to keep away from 
political questions and discussions. Only on one occasion did he 
depart from his self-imposed rule, and that was when he was called 
on to save the life of a close friend and brilliant airman, Ernst Udet. 
Udet was the victor of 62 air combats in the last war, Knight of 
the Pour le Merite, ace stunt flyer during the post-war period, 
organiser of air expeditions to Africa and the Arctic, in short a 
brilliant and daring airman in contrast to the discreet and business- 
minded Milch, who certainly did not underrate him. Since 1933 
he had been the Quarter-Master General designate, whose depart- 
ment was officially announced only on 1st March 1935, and being 
an adventurer was not quite satisfied with his inconspicuous 
work. As a sideline he had taken over an air squadron belonging 
to the storm-trooper organisation. It has never been discovered 
whether he was so close a friend of Roehm's that he was willing to 
take part in any of that leader's more deeply laid schemes, but it 
is known that he was at the top of the list of those who were to be 
executed during the June purge of 1934. 

Udet was not friendly with the Reichswehr hierarchy, for he had 
been frequently cold-shouldered in the post-war years by the 
conservative army caste to whom distinction in the new arm was 
not enough. Between Goring and Udet there was, in addition, 
a special personal animosity which had its origin in the days when 
Goring succeeded to the command of the famous Richthofen 
Squadron. Though Udet gave Goring credit as a brave pilot, and 
did not grudge him the appointment, he criticised him as being 
an unskilled fighter who was more courageous than clever. 
Goring's vanity could not stand such criticism, and he never hid 

91 



MILCH 

his resentment. Jn spite of all this, Milch not only saved his 
friend from the firing squad but procured his appointment as 
Quarter-Master General in 1935. 

In spite of his' care never to take part in politics this was 
sufficient to make Himmler and Goebbels his watchful enemies. 
A sustained attack upon him by rumour followed, but he 
retained his post in the Air Ministry through the support of 
his Minister, Goring, who knew very well that he could never 
build up, expand and command such a vast organisation as the 
Luftwaffe was intended to become without the assistance of a 
master of big business like Milch. 

Milch's ancestry has been frequently under discussion, for his 
position among anti-Semite Nazis gives it singular meaning. At 
one time he was identified with a family of the same name who 
before 1914 owned a large artificial manure factory in the province 
of Posen. That link-up could not be established, but then it was 
asserted that his mother was a Jewess. Higher Gestapo circles 
spread the story that Milch's mother had stated under oath that 
Milch was not a child of her marriage to the former Quarter- 
Master General in command of medical stores for the Imperial 
German Army. What is true is that Milch was called upon to sign 
a declaration upon his word of honour that he knew of no non- 
Aryan blood, and this he did. It is equally important that further 
inquiries into his family tree were categorically forbidden by 
Goring himself. 

Milch, who rose quickly to the rank of general, became better 
known abroad during many visits which he paid to this country 
and to Italy and France. 

With the conclusion of the anti-Comintern Axis pact he was, 
as Secretary of State of the Luftwaffe, faced with two problems. 
One was to examine the strategic value of the Italian Regia 
Aeronautica, the second to satisfy the demands of the Imperial 
Japanese Army Air Force, which was far behind in the training 
of its personnel, and, in 1937, certainly not up-to-date in its 
material. Frequent visits to Rome convinced Milch that the Italian 
Air Force, which had gained some reputation by its spectacular 
mass Atlantic crossings under Marshal Balbo, had since then 
entered a period of stagnation, and was now of little practical use. 
In October 1936 Milch visited the airport of Mirafiore, near Turin, 

92 



MILCH 

took the salute at a parade of the 4th Air Brigade at Lorate 
Pozzolo, near Milan, and inspected the aeroplane factory at Sesto 
Calende. What he saw was not encouraging. The Italians lagged 
behind in design and material, and though a great number of 
pilots were trained and enlisted in the reserve formations, he was 
not at ail convinced of their fighting value. Memoranda bearing 
Milch's signature, however, had no influence upon the final 
political outcome. 

Again in May 1939 he conferred in Rome with General Valle, 
the Italian Under-Secretary for Air, and though the official report 
describes the meeting as one that was 'to draw up terms for reci- 
procal collaboration between the Italian and German Air Forces 
and the intensification of collaboration in the military field', 
Milch was really there to reprimand the Italians for lagging 
behind in the programme agreed on tvvo years before. The 
Italians excused themselves with the plea that though they 
had sufficient pilots the production of machines had declined 
because they needed special steels for which they could not pay. 
They also claimed that the Spanish Civil War had swallowed up 
too many machines. The official communique hid the fact that 
Milch was required to make the best of a bad job. 

The problem of Japan, the Far Eastern Axis partner, was 
different. General Tomoyuki Yamashito commanded the Japan- 
ese Army Air Force. The German Air Attache at the German 
Embassy in Tokio, von Gronau, had sent home a steady flow of 
complaints which finished with the conclusion that the Japanese 
had no effective air force worth mentioning. Of dive-bombing 
they knew nothing. 

Milch sent his best friend, Udet, to Japan to go thoroughly into 
Japanese flying resources, and on receiving the report he sent out a 
German Air Mission to organise Japan's Air Force and drill her 
pilots. Capable effacing anything and learning anything, then as 
now, the Japanese had not shown any innate genius for flying. 
Milch relied upon von Gronau, air attache in Tokio, to smooth 
out any difficulties and prevent friction, but German diplomacy 
was not enough to offset German methods and manners. The 
work of the German Air Mission nearly brought about a break 
in the cordial relations between Japan and Germany. On arrival 
the German Luftwaffe officers put the Japanese through the most 

93 



MILCH 

vigorous training, marked by very little understanding of the men 
placed at their disposal; they were compelled to dive-bombing 
with inadequate training, with the result that the death rate 
of Japanese personnel under training by the Germans was 
higher than that suffered by Japan in her air operations in 
China. Public opinion, and even higher army officers, became 
resentful and the Germans were compelled to modify their 
methods. In the end Milch could report to Goring that satis- 
factory progress had been made. The war, which the Germans 
and Japanese already had in mind, was to prove it. 

The Japanese surprise air attacks on Pearl Harbour, the dive- 
bombing in Malaya, the destruction of the British battleships off 
Singapore, were executed by pilots who had received their train- 
ing indirectly from Milch through his Air Mission to Japan. Japan 
commanded a small but very skilled group of pilots who made the 
surprise attack on Pearl Harbour more deadly by their all-out air 
onslaught. These pilots formed the elite of the Japanese officers 
corps, they had had the best training available in the Axis coun- 
tries, and they were intended and expected to tip the scale deci- 
sively against the United States during the first few weeks. But 
this quality was rare among Japanese air personnel as a whole, 
and the inferior capacity of the majority is among the causes of the 
surprising failure of the Japanese to exploit their initial successes 
to the utmost. That failure was entirely the affair of Japan ; none 
of the responsibility for it rested on Milch and Gronau. 

The growing confidence inside the German High Command 
was greatly strengthened by memoranda Milch was able to supply 
on the weakness of the effective French Air Force. He managed to 
get on rather cordial terms with the French Chief of the Air Staff, 
General Joseph Vuillemin, and personally visited the French air 
establishment, where nothing was hidden from his experienced 
eye. He saw that, from the first day of any operation against France, 
the Luftwaffe could play cat and mouse with the French Air 
Force. 

His valuation of the Royal Air Force was not quite so reassur- 
ing for the Secretary of State of the Luftwaffe. Milch had seen an 
air display in 1936 at Hatfield, and was duly impressed by it. 
Next year, October 1937 Milch headed a deputation of the Luft- 
waffe which comprised his friend Udet, by that time Quarter- 

94 



MILCH 

master General of the Luftwaffe, Lieut-General Stumpf, Lieut.- 
Colonel Polte, Major Nielsen and Major Kreipe. 

Returning to Berlin from that visit, Major Kreipe, who was the 
personal A.D.C. to Milch, related to friends over a glass of beer at 
the exclusive Aero Club the impressions his chief had gained dur- 
ing the visit. Though the R.A.F. display at Hendon was duly 
appreciated, a stronger impression was made by visits to aircraft 
factories at Birmingham and Coventry. According to Kreipe, 
Milch was not disposed to dismiss the potential strength of the 
R.A.F. in the same way as he did the French Air Force, and 
though he was confident that the immediate striking force of the 
R.A.F. would not be relatively high for the next two or three years, 
he warned his Government against under-estimation if production 
of aircraft and training of new crews were brought up to a real war 
footing. 

This belief led later on to the Battle of Britain, and the bombing 
of England in 1940-41. For Milch saw the only remedy against the 
efficiency of the R.A.F. in what is known in German army circles 
as a 'suffocation attack'. This implied that if the R.A.F. were able 
to take to the air in full strength with expanded personnel and 
reinforced aircraft, the Luftwaffe would stand a doubtful chance 
of winning a decisive victory. Therefore such a development 
had to be prevented by 'suffocating' the R.A.F., which meant a 
prolonged bombardment of the districts of production before 
their factories could turn out the planes. Milch's visit to this 
country in 1937, combined with the reports of the German Air 
Attache in London, General Wenninger, laid the fundamental 
basis for the German onslaught after the fall of France. 

The outbreak of the war saw a great deal of Luftwaffe work in 
the Polish campaign, but ground operations dominated. The only 
innovation of Milch's during air operations against Poland was 
the attachment of members of the German minority in Poland to 
commanding officers of air squadrons, who were used as path- 
finders for targets. The Polish Air Force was not up-to-date in 
material, but when the full story of Poland's part in this war is 
written it will become clear that every Polish pilot could have 
claimed a much higher standard of morale than any Luftwaffe 
officer, whose chief source of confidence was that he was a member 
of a force which hopelessly outnumbered that of the Poles. 

95 



MILCH 

The attack on Denmark and Norway was executed according 
to plans with which neither Milch nor any other Luftwaffe officer 
had anything to .do. These plans were originally laid down in 
1925-26, and had been drawn up by officers of the German Navy. 
In 1940 the basis of them still stood, though their tactical execu- 
tion was facilitated by the Luftwaffe's enormous resources in 
transport planes. The long peace-time preparation which Milch 
had directed as managing director of the Lufthansa now had its 
effect. The Ju.52, to which the Norwegian campaign owed its suc- 
cess, was originally a commercial plane for cargo and passengers. 
Milch, although only the technical executant, took full credit for 
success in the north, and there was nobody to oppose him, 
certainly not German naval officers who had been working on the 
original Norwegian plans in 1924. The German Navy's part in 
the Norwegian campaign is well known. Their losses were heavy, 
not only when they encountered the Norwegian land defences, 
but also from the Norwegian navy. The Germans no doubt 
anticipated losses frqjn the British lleet, but the Norwegian 
forces actually caused most of the sinkings. 

In the campaign in the west, which also went according to 
plan, Milch's role was not a conspicuous one. By the nature of 
the fighting the Luftwaffe was given no independence whatsoever, 
but had to act under strict orders from the army. Nevertheless 
the rank of Field Marshal was given him, a promotion somewhat 
discounted by its award to two important Luftwaffe generals, 
Sperrle and Kesselring, at the same time, though their previous 
rank was superior to that of Milch. That was an irritation, but 
there was to be a more serious check than this on the high reputa- 
tion that Milch had been able to build up after Norway. There was 
an adverse influence in which could be seen, though obscurely, 
the hand of Hitler, who, as with Mussolini and other dictators, 
always jealously watched the rise of men under his command, 
playing one off against the other when a check seemed expedient. 
Hitler was fully aware that Goring was little more than a puppet 
in the larger organisation of the air force, and that the brain 
behind it was Milch's. He knew that to keep that organisation 
effective he needed Milch. But there is a difference between mak- 
ing use of a man and allowing him to become a popular hero. This 
jealousy has inspired Hitler whenever he has intervened in any 

96 



MILCH 

branch of the German armed forces. Milch experienced it after 
the fall of France. 

It seemed to the Secretary of State of the German Luftwaffe 
that the campaign against England that followed the fall of France 
had to be conducted at least as far as fundamental rules 'of 
strategy went on similar lines to that against Norway, with one 
important difference. Against Britain he could not depend at all 
on the German Navy, which had no desire to commit suicide in 
an engagement with the British Navy. The full weight of opera- 
tions, therefore, fell on the shoulders of the Luftwaffe, which was 
fighting on lines that were actually extremely simple. How it tried 
to win that battle has been described in the official Government 
publication The Battle of Britain. 

If Milch was charged with any of the responsibility for the de- 
feat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain he had a sound re- 
ply. Hitler had demanded numbers, and Milch had found ways of 
supplying them swiftly, ingeniously, and, in the beginning, 
secretly. He could hardly be blamed if the German machines 
lacked manoeuvrability, armament, speed and fire-power. The 
speed demanded in the supply of machines prevented that deliber- 
ation in the search for the best which produced the Spitfire. The 
best fighter in the world was designed with awareness of what the 
Stuka (Junkers 87) and the Messerschmitt lacked. The mass air- 
craft with which Milch had supplied Germany served her well in 
her first simple and brutal operations. Surprised and almost 
defenceless victims had been terrorised and subdued. Where there 
was little or no air force, Germany's had been irresistible, and 
before the all-out attack on Great Britain the Luftwaffe had never 
known an air battle on anything approaching equal terms. 

In the Battle of Britain, which was the necessary preliminary 
to invasion, Hitler and Goring, above Milch, calculated on the 
effect of numbers, but the Luftwaffe failed, in spite of over- 
whelming numbers roughly about two to one because the 
nerves of Germany's leaders failed before the daily mounting 
total of losses. They were even doubtful, perhaps, whether their 
opponents could really be so much weaker numerically. And 
Germany's losses were so heavy because her pilots were, so to 
speak, beaten on the draw by airmen whose spirit could never be 
surpassed by the fanatical fighting qualities, brought to fever 

97 



MILCH 

pitch under the eyes of the Gestapo, of the German pilots; 
above all, because they were outflown, outmanoeuvred and 
outgunned by th British machines, whose surpassing qualities 
Milch and his designers had not conceived, and had not been 
given the time to develop. The Battle of Britain, it should be 
remembered, lasted longer than any of the previous campaigns 
in which the Luftwaffe had fought as an independent unit. In 
Poland, the Low Countries and France it assisted the army in 
its ground operations and was completely under the command of 
the army. 

It is too early yet to say that the strategical failure of the Luft- 
waffe in the Battle of Britain determined Hitler to turn against 
Russia; probably political considerations had a much greater 
influence on him. It is beyond doubt, however, that the Luft- 
waffe's failure to achieve what was assigned to it had its effect in 
the sudden direction of the German war effort towards the east. 
It would have been easy for the supreme commander and Fiihrer 
of the German people to get rid of the Secretary of State for Air 
after the failure against Britain, had not the possible scapegoat 
foreseen danger. 

Whilst Goebbels was trumpeting ceaseless victories over the 
British Isles, Milch was careful to put two conspicuous leaders of 
the Luftwaffe into the limelight, keeping well behind the scenes 
himself. These leaders were Kesselring and Hugo Sperrle. Both 
officers had been active members of the Reichswehr, from which 
they had been transferred to the young Luftwaffe. Particularly on 
Field Marshal Sperrle, who was under his operational command, 
did the cunning Milch manage to lay the blame. 

Since 1926 Sperrle, as a major in the Reichswehr Ministry, had 
been experimenting with the subject of stopping combustion 
engines by 'death rays'. Many other people had the same idea, 
but generally their experiments cost a lot of money and resulted in 
scientific humbug, after which the inventor usually went bankrupt 
if he did not come into conflict with the law. Major Sperrle 
achieved practical results. He constructed a machine from which 
electro-magnetic rays were emitted that stopped combustion 
engines at a distance of 20 yards, though beyond that range the 
rays were ineffective. This sideline of his studies had long been 
forgotten, but Milch took the opportunity of spreading the belief 

98 



MILCH 

that Sperrle had once had a hand in experiments which in them- 
selves had been discredited on scientific grounds, while their 
authors had been associated with fraud. 

History recalls that as Milch managed to shift the responsibility 
to these people, who included the Commander-in-Chief of the 
Luftwaffe, the powerful Goring himself, he was allowed to keep 
his post and his friends theirs. 

The Russian campaign meant an abrupt end to the careers of 
many generals of the German Army ; some came back to desk 
work, some were permanently axed. For generals of the Luft- 
waffe this was not the case for good reason. Opinion on the 
German General Staff in regard to the strength of the Russian 
ground forces was divided. The more technically instructed offi- 
cers of the German Army had a high respect for the Russian 
armed forces while the less technical officers thought in conserva- 
tive terms and held on to the conviction that their wide grasp of 
the art of war would be the decisive factor. This conservative 
section of the German Army was naturally unable also to estimate 
a factor that was of the most intangible character, and one they 
had never seen tested, namely the ability of the Russian General 
Staff to direct a national war of defence. 

As far as air war was concerned the question was a much sim- 
pler one. From the beginning Milch stood on solid ground here. 
There was no doubt about what could be expected from the Red 
Air Force. The air arm in Russia was first class, the pilots were of 
the highest standard, the material had been tested in peace-time 
and proved to be of the best. The numerical strength was enor- 
mous, and the greater part >f the industry producing war planes 
was out of the bombing range of any German aircraft. Through- 
out the Russian campaign there has never been the necessity for 
Milch to revert to the excuse *I told you so', which became fami- 
liar among certain German army leaders. Decision in the east was 
from the beginning to be sought by the Germans on the ground 
by quick destruction of the Russian field armies. The Luftwaffe 
was expected to play an important part in it, but not a decisive 
one. While the army claimed victory after victory early in 1941, 
the Luftwaffe could not let its pretentions go by default, and more 
than once it was claimed that the entire Red Air Force had 
been destroyed. It is not known who was responsible for these 

99 



MILCH 

announcements, but it certainly cannot have been Milch, for 
they were errors that were quickly exposed, and that called for 
scapegoats. Thesq.Hitler did not fail to find. And Milch still kept 
his office. 

The part which the Luftwaffe played in North Africa was not 
a glorious one. The Germans were effective enough as long as 
they outnumbered the British, but as soon as a certain parity was 
established British superiority in material and fighting skill became 
very conspicuous. Here Field Marshal Kesselring, being in the 
field, took the direct responsibility. Anybody aware of the secret 
animosity between Milch and Kesselring can guess at the personal 
satisfaction with which Milch saw the former Reichswehr officer 
under a cloud. Kesselring had never spared the diplomat 
Milch his rough manners, and it was Kesselring who started 
Milch's nickname of 'baby face', which suggests only too well 
the appearance of the plump, blue-eyed Under-Secretary of State 
for Air. 

Though there has been a marked decrease in the responsibilities 
and activities of Milch as the brains of the Luftwaffe, he is bound 
to have thrown on him an important part in the defensive tasks 
that now confront German air power. He has shown that he is 
able to execute operations of limited offensive character. He has 
also shown where his limits lie. The decrease of German land 
power caused by the fighting in the east does not leave an un- 
limited reserve for the defence of the 1 5,000 mile coast of the 
fortress of Europe. The commanders charged with defending that 
fortress must call immediately upon the Luftwaffe. The combina- 
tion of army and air force worked well in France, but the op- 
ponents during that campaign, in which the Luftwaffe, inde- 
pendently trained and organised, was under the absolute control 
of the army, cannot be compared in any respect with what the 
German armed forces have to face. And it is useful to know the 
qualifications and the weaknesses of the man who has been at 
the centre of Hitler's air force since its stealthy creation. 



100 



Field Marshal Wftltber Heinrich 
Alfred Herman von Braucbitsch 

"/ organise before I fight" VON BRAUCHITSCH 

Walther von Brauchitsch was in figure and appearance the 
beau ideal of the professional soldier: lithe, wiry, 
upright, quick and direct in speech and action. The 
severity of a Napoleonic nose and firmly set lips were softened 
by expressive brown eyes. He instilled an atmosphere of confi- 
dence and sincerity not general among his colleagues. In his 
dealings with subordinates he showed understanding and verged 
on pleasantness, which is so rare that it might almost be the 
subject of a taboo among senior Prussian officers. His bearing 
in the presence of civilians was marked by perfect manners and 
pleasant ways. 

It was inconceivable that this man, except under the greatest 
provocation, would lose his balanced temper, and on the fateful 
occasion when, as will be related, he threw away restraint while 
with Hitler and his council, he must have been moved by a sense 
of danger to the army and the nation arising from the Fuhrer's 
orders. 

Not an extremist and not a showman, he did not make such 
claims to deference as sometimes renders the company of those 
of high rank difficult to bear. Men under his command who 
had proved themselves received due credit, and sfervice under him 
was possibly to be preferred to that of any other in the German 
Army. His word could be relied on, and he would always accept 
responsibility for his own actions and decisions. 

The same elasticity of mind that made bad manners unnatural 
to him gave him his facility in foreign languages, as well as the 
wide range of his education and information. His interest in 
technical questions and in broader aspects of sociology, econo- 
mics and philosophy might have made him a great civil adminis- 
trator, as they certainly taught him how to deal with the diverse 
characters of other general officers. Knowing that 'reason does 
not need to raise its voice', he made his wishes and his proper 

101 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

authority respected without bullying. Yet no one should think of 
him as the oily diplomat ; he detested that role, and was himself 
too sincere to assume it. 

In von Brauchitsch there was a man of fine character who could 
be dissociated from the soldier. He could shake hands with a 
visitor without clicking his heels, and allow one to come into 
close intellectual contact with him, for his sympathies went 
beyond the army and its separate life. The charming custom at a 
public ceremony of having flowers presented by children to the 
principal person was full of its true grace and meaning when von 
Brauchitsch had part in it. 

He was, in fact, a type of German who would present a helpful 
and hopeful example in the re-education of the German people 
after the war, though the type is now rare enough to be con- 
spicuous. It was characteristic of him that in any disaster calling 
for remedial action on the part of the civilian authorities in a 
district under his military authority, he would take the first step, 
even at financial risk to himself. When Commander-in-Chief in 
East Prussia he would be one of the first on the spot when 
country villages were devastated by fires, talking to the people, 
promising them help from the army, inquiring into their immedi- 
ate needs, all with an ease and grace that left no question of his 
sincerity or evoked the all too common suggestion, when a 
commanding general showed sympathy with the civilian public, 
that he was courting publicity. 

As Commander-in-Chief he took a wide view of military neces- 
sities and of reasons of State. Convinced that greater Germany 
was destined to dominate the world, he could not have been 
gentle in his methods, but there is no reason to associate him with 
Nazi crimes, especially in the treatment of subject peoples. 
On grounds of permanent success alone he would have differed 
from Hitler and his gangsters in their methods of asserting 
mastery, and he must have repudiated their characteristic brutality 
in disposing of those who stood in their way. Yet as a militarist 
he had his illusions, which made him alternate between thinking 
that he was using the Nazis for his own designs and becoming the 
instrument of lawless schemes that no man of his antecedents 
should have acknowledged. At times either his judgment or his 
integrity was clouded. Recall his address to German soldiers in 

102 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

France after Dunkirk : 'We consider the victory already won,' he 
said. England, he admitted, remained secure, 'but only so long as 
we choose.' If he believed that, he was unablg to grasp all the 
factors of the situation on land and sea and in the air ; if he did not 
believe it he was lending himself to Hitler's theory that his 
grandiose purposes were served by fooling the army and the 
public. 

Walther von Brauchitsch was born on the 4th October, 1881, 
in Berlin, a son of the Prussian General of Cavalry Bernhard von 
Brauchitsch and Charlotte von Gordon. The family of von 
Brauchitsch, which originally came from Silesia, moved in the 
leading social circles of Berlin, and the father's military rank put 
him on equal footing with any general commanding the Guards 
or the Imperial Life Bodyguard. To a great extent von Brauch- 
itsch senior belonged to the rare minority of his caste who have 
earned themselves the attribute of 'enlightened', which meant 
that he had on occasions broken out of the social and pro- 
fessional conventions which usually hedged in families like his. 
He was greatly interested in the political movements that pursued 
liberal and moderately conservative aims and was interested in 
the fine arts and could be seen at every exhibition of painting and 
sculpture in Berlin during the late eighties. 

It was this rather unusual breadth of mind that influenced the 
General of Cavalry to send his son Walther to a Berlin grammar 
school (Franzosisches Gymnasium), and not immediately to the 
cadet schools. It was not until 1895 that Walther joined the cadet 
schools near Berlin, which he left as one of their best pupils in 
1900. The same year he became a second lieutenant in the Royal 
Prussian Grenadier Guards No. 3, also known as Konigin 
Elizabeth, probably the best Guards regiment in Germany, 
famous as the Elizabelher. 

With von Brauchitsch's origins his future military career could 
be regarded as limited only by his capacity. He could be expected 
to remain in the Guards until he reached field rank, when he could 
either join the Imperial Court in Berlin as an A.D.C. to the 
Emperor or accept one of the higher positions that were reserved 
for officers of such a regiment. The Elizabether was the ideal 
starting point for a young officer. 

103 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

But Walther von Brauchitsch began to reveal his character. 
Not for him the secure and conventional road; he intended to 
climb higher, and the chose the steeper path. A year after joining 
the Elizabether he asked for a transfer to an artillery regiment, 
preferably a regiment of the line. None of the men around him 
understood him, especially another young second lieutenant, 
von Kleist, who was to fight 39 years later in Rostov-on-Don 
against Marshal Timoshenko and to lose; for von Kleist took all 
the assurance of a former Elizabether officer into a battle where 
only the knowledge and skill that von Brauchitsch was then gain- 
ing could have availed him. It was von Kleist who led a complete 
Elizabether group against Lieutenant von Brauchitsch, trying 
to persuade him to alter his plans. In his request for a transfer 
this group could only see the outbreak of a 'palace rebellion' 
and the beginning of the end of the social constitution of Berlin's 
upper ten thousand. But von Brauchitsch had made it plain that 
in his opinion the technical developments of the new century 
would demand radical changes in the army. He was convinced 
that the machine age would sooner or later force the army to 
make a complete about turn. 

In 1901 he joined the 3rd Guards Field Artillery Regiment. 
He was soon made A.D.C. to a battalion commander, and later 
to the regimental staff. The officers of this particular regiment, 
however, were too conscious of their standing as Guards to get 
the utmost from their artillery work, thus showing something of 
the shallowness that had made von Brauchitsch leave his Grena- 
diers. 

In 1912 he transferred to the Great General Staff in Berlin as a 
first lieutenant, where after a year's service he was made a captain. 
Again in March 1914 he transferred to an operational department 
of the General Staff, and at the outbreak of the war in August, 
1914 he proceeded as a General Staff officer to the staff of the 
XVI Army Corps at Metz. 

Here he saw the heavy fighting that developed west of Metz 
against the French Third Army. After fighting through Luxem- 
bourg and against Longwy, the XVI German Army Corps was 
the first to take up positions against the French in the sector of 
Verdun. During the early months of 1914 this French position 
represented the hinge of the entire French field forces, and the 

104 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

German position north and north-west of Verdun stood for the 
corresponding position with the German field forces. 

It was during this period that von Brauctitsch witnessed a 
military phenomenon that could not have been foreseen by any 
responsible military leader. The German field armies were massing 
in August, 1914, for their assault against Belgium and Northern 
France. The XVI Army Corps deployed from the fortress region 
of Metz against Luxembourg; the plan was perfect, and any 
interference in its execution could only lead to disastrous results. 
Suddenly the Supreme Commander, Kaiser Wilhelm II in his 
General Headquarters at Bad Krcuznach, ordered a division to 
be withdrawn for the special protection of his headquarters. 
The Kaiser gave directions that the division was to be taken from 
the hinge positions covering Metz and linking the 5th German 
Army with the 6th German Army. Such a move might have had 
disastrous results for the Germans, who were about to start their 
offensive. If the French should recognise this incredible move in 
time they could concentrate against the German hinge and split 
the entire German forces in two by a determined push over Metz 
to Saarbriicken. Von Brauchitsch was present when these orders, 
signed by the Supreme Commander, arrived at headquarters. 
Disaster loomed large. For forty-eight hours the situation was 
obscure; then the frantic efforts of the Chief of the German 
General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, Junior, succeeded in can- 
celling the Kaiser's orders. Here von Brauchitsch saw at close 
quarters how disastrous the interference of any civilian in large 
scale operations could be, and he frequently referred to it later as 
an example of what should not be permitted. It certainly made a 
lasting impression on his military outlook. 

He was on the staff of the XVI Army Corps in front of Verdun 
when the German Verdun offensive started. The fighting round 
Verdun made heavy demands on the artillery, and von Brauch- 
itsch was able to train himself in the use of artillery not only in 
such strength as is allotted to a corps ; for during that offensive 
he very often controlled movements of massed artillery up to the 
strength of eight or nine corps. He was, in fact, the specialist of 
the corps which had held the positions in front of Verdun since 
1914, and he knew the country better than any other German 
officer. More valuable than the technical training given by Verdun 

105 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

was the experience, supremely useful to a mind that could analyse 
it, of a colossal failure. He recognised by first hand experience 
much of what madf Falkenhayn's Brennofen futile. 

This plan had provided that with continuous German attacks 
without the gaining of ground or positions, the French would be 
forced to send division after division into a blast furnace in 
which they would be consumed until the whole French Army 
had been so reduced that it could no longer put up any fighting. 
Falkenhayn had calculated that time would be on his side, and 
that the initiative would never be wrested from him. Von Brauch- 
itsch noted that as the weeks and months of carnage passed, it 
was the Allies who, in spite of severe strain, had the advantage 
of time, and with their offensive on the Somme were able to wrest 
the initiative from the Germans. Whoever heard von Brauch- 
itsch lecture on these subjects was struck by his memory for even 
the smallest detail of what had happened during Verdun, and by 
the way in which he marshalled his facts and arguments to prove 
that offensives should always be executed in the shortest time. 

Towards the end of the war he was transferred as first General 
Staff officer to the staff of the Guard Reserve Corps, one of the 
last corps to retreat to Germany in complete order. 

Von Brauchitsch's service was not interrupted in 1918. In 
November, 1919, after the main work of the demobilisation of the 
Guard Reserve Corps had been finished, he was appointed 
General Staff Officer on the staff of the Army District No. II in 
Stettin. Here he fulfilled General Staff duties without being able 
to use his knowledge of artillery, a position with which no active 
officer of his training could long be satisfied. A year later he re- 
ceived his appointment to the staff of the Artillery Regiment No. 
2, and in 1921 he was made Chief of the Second Battery of the 
Artillery Regiment No. 2. The following year he was transferred 
to the Reichswehr Ministry, where as a major he worked as 
assistant in the Artillery Department. 

The problems that now confronted von Brauchitsch were 
largely concerned with the reorganisation of nucleus artillery 
formations and with the realisation of lessons to be learned 
from the closing months of the war. Von Brauchitsch took a 
large part in putting these lessons into practice. They fell into two 
important sections, one, concerning the future position of artil- 

106 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

lery formations ; and two, the types of guns to be used in them. 
One of the first alterations was to scrap the classifications of 
'light artillery', 'medium artillery' and 'heavy artillery'. A certain 
decentralisation of artillery forces took place, and the infantry 
divisions were given an amount of artillery exceeding even the 
strength of the normal divisional artillery of the war of 1914-18. 
The heavier artillery, which used to be known during and before the 
last war as 'corps artillery', now became 'reinforcement artillery'. 

During von Brauchitsch's time in the Rcichswehr Ministry this 
reorganisation was executed mainly by bringing that artillery 
primarily under the orders of the infantry divisional commander, 
the central idea being that close collaboration between infantry 
and artillery could only be guaranteed if the latter were incor- 
porated to the highest degree in the structure of the formations of 
the former. Von Brauchitsch was not in a position to do much in 
the reorganisation of gun material or in its improvement; and 
that had to be deferred to a later date. 

He spent three years at this work. He was promoted lieutenant- 
colonel in April 1925 and during the same year, in December, 
he again had to take up a troop command, as is usual for General 
Staff officers after a long term of service in Berlin. He took over 
command of the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Artillery Regiment, 
and in November 1 927 was appointed Chief of Staff of the 6th 
Division in Munster, in Westphalia, one of the strongest garrisons 
in western Germany. In 1928 he was made a colonel, and in 1930, 
after his many years of experience with troops under peace-time 
conditions, he returned to the Reichswehr Ministry, where he 
took over the department for army education. This term dis- 
guised its true nature, that of army expansion. 

The time had now come for von Brauchitsch to go deeper into 
the question of guns and munitions, which he had had to leave 
alone when he was in the same office as an assistant. As chief of his 
old department he ordered radical changes. Preparations were 
made to assign to each infantry division two artillery regiments, 
the first composed of nine batteries. Four batteries had 7.5 field 
guns, two 10.5 cm. howitzers, and three 15 cm. howitzers. The 
second artillery regiment was also composed of nine batteries, but 
with guns of much heavier calibre: three batteries of 10.5 cm. 
howitzers, four of 15 cm. howitzers, two of 21 cm. mortars. 

107 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

At the same time foundations were laid for the introduction of 
a new gun, the 88 mm. gun, conspicuous by its long barrel. In this 
von Brauchitsch tpok particular interest. The 88 mm. gun was 
originally thought of as useful for counter-battery work; but 
during von Brauchitsch's time in the Reichswehr Ministry it was 
adapted into a fairly heavy anti-aircraft gun, easy to handle and 
completely mechanised. As was shown under field conditions 
in the second World War, it was so effective that it became a dual 
purpose gun both against aircraft and against tanks. Its introduc- 
tion in its new form was one of von Brauchitsch's main achieve- 
ments. 

As head of this department of army expansion he did not 
follow the usual line of his brother officers in completely breaking 
with existing rules and regulations and with the limitations laid 
down by the Treaty of Versailles. If in his departmental work he 
encountered legal obstacles, he over-rode them only upon the 
written orders of his superiors. Von Brauchitsch was accused by 
both friends and foes inside the Reichswehr Ministry of having 
a 'legality complex'. The violation of agreements accepted by the 
German Government and its military advisers was against his 
personal conception of honour. Von Brauchitsch knew that in 
this he was almost alone, and that none of his friends was deterred 
by the same scruples. "Secret' and 'under cover' were terms not in 
his dictionary. 

He did his duty, and he did it well, but he refused to make his 
job easier by tricks that he could not defend as an officer and a 
man of integrity. Even when he was in danger of coming into con- 
flict with the new order of leadership which knew no laws that 
interfered with its aims, his promotion continued. He was made 
a major-general in 1931, and inspector of artillery in 1932. 
Political events of that fateful year left him unmoved, and while 
almost every officer inside the Reichswehr Ministry was standing 
by to receive orders to overthrow the legal constitution of the 
German Republic and kick out of office the legitimate Govern- 
ment in Prussia with its ministers in Berlin, von Brauchitsch stuck 
strictly to his job. There was more than the so-called 'legality 
complex' about him, more than the pride of an officer of a 
passing age. In his spare time he attended many lectures at 
Berlin University and with professors and students discussed 

108 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

questions of social and economic interest. He was not fenced 
in by the military outlook, as were so many of his colleagues. 

For example, he was fully acquainted wgth the conditions 
leading up to the world economic crisis that started in Wall 
Street in 1929 and spread to Central Europe in 1930. The 
rise in votes for the Communist Party in Germany was no 
mystery to him, and though it would be going too far to say that 
he sympathised with the broad masses of the workers, he was 
conscious of conditions among the working classes of his country 
that had naturally led to widespread discontent. When the repre- 
sentatives of the firm which issued the German Who's Who 
asked him for his particular hobbies, he wrote, to the surprise 
of his brother officers, 'economic and political questions of the 
day'. 

Walther von Brauchitsch was too much the professional soldier 
to have formulated a scheme of things for himself that would fit 
into any political party, but one thing was certain ; he did not 
believe in the doctrine of the Junker class. So thorough had his 
studies been that he could surprise his subordinate staff officers 
with a lecture that showed profound knowledge of the Manchester 
Liberal School and the leading principles governing the so-called 
German Historical School. When during these years he rejected 
the party principles of the National Socialist Party, he did so not 
from fear of that 'neo-socialisirf that was the main attraction 
for the workers in Hitler's hazy ideals. He was sociologist enough 
to recognise and to explain that none of the many promises of 
that party could be fulfilled because each one contradicted the 
other. 

Von Brauchitsch was thus the perfect contrast to another 
general of the Reichswehr, Kurt von Schleicher, who boasted 
of being the 'Socialist General'. Whilst von Schleicher was 
nothing but a wire-puller, and a man who used the slogans of the 
time for his own ends without being a sincere advocate of better- 
ment and improvement, von Brauchitsch, though in fact he 
sought no political position, nor desired any popular following, 
could have entered the political field possessed of sincerity and an 
instructed mind. He was the better soldier for standing well 
beyond politics, and this quality was recognised, for in February 
1933 he became Commander-in-Chief in the First Military 

109 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

District in East Prussia and Chief of the 1st Division in Konigs- 
berg. In October he was promoted lieutenant-general. 

In East Prussia an officer of this rank and command could 
not altogether avoid internal or external political controversy 
had he wished, less so because under the national tradition every 
issue had finally to be decided by the stronger of the personal 
authorities involved. His first clash was with the local Gauleiter of 
the Party and head of the civil administration of the province of 
East Prussia. Koch was an individual of dubious qualifications. 
He was one of the gangster types who would meet political oppon- 
ents with violence, one of those likely to be the cause of trouble 
because of the unaccustomed power now given them by the central 
government in Berlin. Charges of defalcation had been made more 
than once against Herr Koch, who had neither political integrity 
nor social standing. The Commander-in-Chief of the East 
Prussian military district certainly could not receive such a man 
privately, whatever contacts were inevitable on official occasions ; 
but Koch, conscious of his chequered record, never complained 
of this to the central Government in Berlin. He knew that he 
could not stand up to inquiry. Another incident had to be manu- 
factured to draw the attention of the Government in Berlin to 
the attitude of the military chief. 

Von Brauchitsch was engaged in constructing field fortifica- 
tions near the Masurian Lakes in East Prussia, and for this pur- 
pose declared certain areas prohibited to civilians. The Black 
Guard command in Berlin had the sinister notion that special 
manoeuvres of their SS formations might strengthen the morale 
of the East Prussian population and impress the domineering 
Junker caste which was still (up to 1934-35) in a strong position 
in that province. The leader of the SS, Himmler, was not well 
informed of von Brauchitsch's political views and classed him 
with the Junkers. 

It came to von Brauchitsch's knowledge that these SS man- 
oeuvres were to be combined with a campaign of persecution 
against the Jews in East Prussia and against both the Protestant 
and Catholic Churches in the district, where strong religious 
feelings were still in evidence. The General countered the move 
in the military field. 

When the SS went to East Prussia they intended de-training 

110 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

in the special military areas. On their arrival they were received 
by formations of the Reichswehr, who were under strict orders 
to prevent at any cost any storm trooper from^setting foot on the 
shores of the Masurian Lakes, Having no choice, the SS turned 
back, but Himmler launched a sharp protest and the entire 
matter came up for arbitration by Hitler. Von Brauchitsch de- 
fended himself on grounds of duty, saying laconically that: 
'Civilians are not allowed to enter that area'. Nor would he enter 
into any discussion of that order. He did not acknowledge the 
military status of the SS formations, and here, as on similar 
occasions in subsequent years, he was militarily correct and un- 
assailable on political grounds. He acted as a soldier, but unlike 
his military colleagues in Berlin he also accepted his limitations 
as such. He was not interested in the ambitious plans of the 
Commander-in-Chief, General Baron von Fritsch, though he was 
fully aware of them. His duties as Commander-in-Chief of Ger- 
many's most eastern province occupied all his time, especially 
as he was now called upon to make a special survey of the armed 
forces of the Soviet Union, a commission which he executed with 
unusual energy. We shall return to the results of this study when 
dealing with the position he took up shortly before the German 
attack on Russia in 1941. 

The dismissal of Werner von Fritsch as Commander-in-Chief 
of the German armed forces in 1938 was a severe test of the 
stability of the German internal administration of that time. By 
that act Hitler achieved a major victory over the Reichswehr 
clique, and for that very reason the appointment of so uncom- 
promising a soldier as von Brauchitsch as the new head of the 
army was a complete surprise. Given Hitler's policy of displacing 
the supreme authority of the army in its own sphere, it seemed 
unaccountable, and could only be explained by Hitler's cautious- 
ness. He still moved by steps of apparent compromise. Von 
Fritsch represented the class that were possibly the most danger- 
ous competitors in his struggle for personal world domination 
by means of the power of the Reich and the efficiency of the Ger- 
man armed forces. Von Brauchitsch was certainly not a prominent 
Nazi sympathiser; indeed, some informed observers among 
German army circles of 1938 expected him to inspire an even 
stronger anti-Nazi attitude in the German High Command than 

111 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

had prevailed under von Fritsch. But such expectations took too 
little account of von Brauchitsch's sense of discipline. 

His appointment as Commander-in-Chief took place in dram- 
atic circumstances. Called upon in the Reich Chancellery to give 
his opinion on the events of February 1938, he was reported to 
have explained to the Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler, that 
the influence of civilians in military affairs inevitably led to dis- 
astrous results. He agreed that it was not the task of the Com- 
mander-in-Chief to dabble in internal politics, but his first point 
was put before Hitler in an unmistakable and impressive way. 
Von Brauchitsch, it is known, is the only German general who 
has ever been able to tell Hitler in the presence of others that the 
days were over when a lance corporal could assume the position 
of a Napoleon. And that he did in no uncertain terms. His appoint- 
ment in February 1938, and his uncompromising insistence on his 
military responsibility, accounted for the fact that, despite Hitler's 
known assumption of divine wisdom, he did not interfere with 
military operations during the Polish, Norwegian, French or 
Balkan campaigns. 

It was significant, again, that the new Commander-in-Chief 
retained the personal staff and the adjutants of his predecessor. 
After the violent conflict between Hitler and von Fritsch, im- 
possible to conceal, this was proof of his strength. Only a few days 
later in the presence of other officers he rebuked one who was 
gaining prominence in the Reichswehr disproportionate to his 
professional abilities General Wilhelm Keitel. Keitel by this 
time held the important position of military under-secretary of 
state with general's rank. But von Brauchitsch did not hide his 
contempt for men who, like Keitel, climbed in their careers by 
means of intrigue ; and the relations between the two were not 
happy. 

In all this the attitude of Hitler was understandable. A war was 
pending ; operations might start any moment. The alternatives to 
von Brauchitsch were two men who were both politically 'black 
sheep', von Leeb and von Rundstedt, whose collusion with von 
Fritsch had led to their temporary retirement in February 1938. 
General von Bock, who might have been among the 'possibles', 
hardly possessed the necessary qualifications. Keitel had no claim 
to consideration. 

112 



VON BRAUCH1TSCH 

In internal organisation von Brauchitsch distinguished himself 
by two orders which he issued as soon as he took up his new posi- 
tion. He laid down hard and fast rules about the feeding of the 
German soldier, and the schedule which he liad drawn up after 
having investigated the question from every point of view and 
consulted the opinion of more than two thousand scientists was 
as follows : 
Breakfast 

ilb. pure rye bread 

Coffee mixture or tea 

1 oz. butter or margarine or Ib. marmalade 
Dinner 

i Ib. bread 

1 pint soup 

6 oz. boneless meat or 12 oz. fish fillet 
\ oz. fat (lard or butter) 

2 Ib. potatoes and seasonable vegetables. 
Supper 

i Ib. bread 

i pint coffee 

1 oz. sugar 

li oz. butter or margarine 

9 oz. fresh sausage 

Once a week potatoes to be served in their jackets, light beer to 
be ration issue on field manoeuvres and on strenuous duties; 
cigarettes ration issue also. 

This schedule was accompanied by another order re-introducing 
solitary confinement and darkened cells as a punishment. At the 
same time von Brauchitsch reminded his commanders of the 
standing orders that in certain emergencies a soldier was entitled 
to use arms against civilians in Germany. Arms might be so used: 

(1) To ward off an attack or threat with direct danger to life and 
limb or to break down opposition ; 

(2) To compel obedience to the order to give up arms, or in the 
case of assemblies of people an order to disperse ; 

(3) Against prisoners or persons temporarily arrested who try 
to escape; 

(4) To stop persons trying to escape after a cry of 'Halt' ; 

(5) To protect persons or things placed under their guard after a 

113 H 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

*halt' warning. Hand grenades or dynamite might be used in a 
case of absolute necessity, but firearms were not to be used 
when other weapons would serve. 

This stern reminder did not pass without comment, especially 
among Party men in higher positions, for noboby knew exactly 
what was the Commander-in-Chief 's purpose. 

A scheme of army welfare was completed according to which 
N.C.O.s who had served for twelve years or more could apply for 
special jobs in the State service (post office, customs, etc.) or if 
they declined such a position could receive the equivalent of 760 
in cash to open a business of their own, but if they preferred to 
go as farmers to the border districts of Germany they were to 
receive the equivalent of 1,350 in cash to buy land and farming 
implements ; in the latter case special credits would be arranged, 
for them by State organisations. The perfection of this social 
scheme was one of the things that had matured in von Brauch- 
itsch's mind while studying social conditions many years before 
and it came now to practical results. A further example of his 
solicitude for the comfort of the troops was an order for six 
thousand pianos for their entertainment, the first of which was 
installed in the Fiihrer's headquarters train. 

These innovations and social improvements, though they were 
also accompanied by a more severe tightening of the disciplinary 
side of army life, were not welcomed in certain Government 
quarters where it was considered that welfare schemes should be 
reserved for certain institutions of the Nazi Party. The first to 
express this view was Dr. Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister. 
It was impossible to attack von Brauchitsch on this ground, but 
instead he instituted a whispering campaign against the Com- 
mander-in-Chief. It was known that von Brauchitsch had had 
differences in his family life, and that a divorce from Frau von 
Brauchitsch was taking place. Immediately after the divorce von 
Brauchitsch paid his addresses to Frau Charlotte Schmidt in Bad 
Salzbrunn in Silesia, the daughter of a retired high court judge, 
Herr Rueffer. These domestic events were regarded by Dr. 
Goebbels as a suitable background for slander. He put out stories 
that von Brauchitsch had only been able to take divorce proceed- 
ings because Hitler had backed him, and that certain funds at the 
disposal of the Fiihrer had been used in this connection. 

114 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

Dr. Goebbels was not very successful in this campaign, for at 
an early date von Brauchitsch was able to trace the source of the 
rumours. The result was that the Minister for Propaganda and 
Public Enlightenment was summoned to the Commander-in- 
ChiePs office, where on a sunny summer afternoon the frightened 
little Doctor received a lecture on proceedings governing a duel 
between an officer and an academician. Goebbels is no hero, and 
the interview sufficed to stop the rumour within twenty-four 
hours. 

Goebbels now passed the ball to the Reich Youth Leader, 
Baldur von Schirach, who preferred the method of indirect attack. 
On his estate in Bavaria von Schirach was neighbour to two 
nephews of von Brauchitsch Manfred von Brauchitsch, the 
racing ace, and his brother Harald. A gamekeeper in the service of 
von Schirach was said one day to have denounced these two 
brothers for slandering Frau von Schirach, who, indeed, was not 
exactly Caesar's wife. When on the local railway station next day 
the two brothers von Brauchitsch met von Schirach, he slapped 
Manfred's face. Manfred asked for a duel, but von Schirach 
answered that he was not a good shot. Whereupon Manfred 
seemed satisfied. 

A few days later we are still in the summer of 1938 there 
was another scene. The two brothers lived with their mother in a 
flat, which was forced at night by von Schirach and twelve men of 
his bodyguard. Without explanation they demolished the flat, 
locked up the mother in a cupboard, while Manfred and Harald, 
held helpless by the bodyguards, were beaten by von Schirach with 
a riding whip. 

Manfred and Harald, remembering von Schirach's excuse for 
not accepting a duel, now resorted to law, and sued him for 
damages. In court the defendant put forward the objection that 
he was a Reichstag Deputy, and as such could not be sued in 
open court, but by pressing the charge the two brothers obtained 
damages, which von Schirach paid. 

That was how the Nazis worked. In all this neither Manfred 
nor Harald nor their mother were the real quarry of the Nazi 
Party. Their larger aim was to compromise the Commander-in- 
Chief, who was also head of the von Brauchitsch family. They 
failed. Von Brauchitsch married Frau Charlotte Schmidt on 

115 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

24th September 1938 in Bad Salzbrunn, allowing himself six hours 
leave for the wedding ceremony and then returning to the autumn 
manoeuvres of the^German Army. The Commander-in-Chief had 
reason to be at his post. While the lesser Nazi gangsters were ex- 
tending their Party control by intrigue and violence, the arch- 
intriguer brought about the next coup in his vast programme of 
international crime. Czechoslovakia was the victim. 

The occupation of the Czechoslovak State was executed under 
a plan with which von Brauchitsch had little to do. He is known 
to have given Hitler this warning: 'If you want the German 
Army for bluff in this undertaking you can have it. For anything 
more serious we are not yet prepared'. (With the significance of 
that warning in mind, it may well be asked again whether appease- 
ment as a cautionary measure was really necessary.) 

It is noticeable that during the subsequent administration of 
Czechoslovakia by the German Government, von Brauchitsch 
endeavoured, though ineffectively, to give meaning to the word 
protectorate. He was interested in the country as a basis for pro- 
duction, and such a plan could be only obstructed, not assisted, 
by the gangster methods of the Gestapo and the Party, who were 
allowed a free hand under the 'protector' Baron Konstantin von 
Neurath. Here the Commander-in-Chief's military correctness, 
whether it is regarded as meritorious or not, was his limitation. 
For the head of the army was essentially the instrument of Hitler. 

At the end of January 1939 von Brauchitsch was confronted by 
a problem that had assisted in the downfall of von Fritsch. Hitler 
had ordered the complete abolition of compulsory church services 
in the German Army. He had also dispensed with the religious 
service at the swearing in of young recruits. This order was issued 
by him as Supreme Commander, without consulting the Com- 
mader-in-Chief. Though von Brauchitsch was more concerned 
about the affront to his personal authority than about the attacks 
upon religion, he did voice the opinion of a large part of the 
army by defending compulsory church services. His views did 
not prevail. The order for the abolition of church services re- 
mained in force, and the clergy in the army lost much of their 
status. 

So the rift between the two men widened. Von Brauchitsch 
declined to be present at the launching of the battleship Bismarck, 

116 



VON BRAUC HITSCH 

nor was he at the opening of the Great Automobile Exhibition 
in Berlin in February 1939. On such occasions the chief representa- 
tive of the German armed forces was expected to be present. 
Hitler offered a sop at this stage of the proceedings which, with his 
astonishing egotism, he may really have regarded as a lordly 
gesture: he conferred the Golden Party Insignia on his Com- 
mander-in-Chief for services rendered to the armed forces. Pre- 
sented to any senior officer, not to mention the head of the army, 
such a decoration was nothing but a slight, a piece of impudent 
sarcasm ; and, in addition, von Brauchitsch was not likely to feel 
flattered when he heard that the Insignia had at the same time 
been awarded to Keitel. 

Von Brauchitsch never wore it on his tunic in fact he has 
never been seen wearing anything but the Iron Cross 1 and II 
class which he won in the last war. This, of course, did not pass 
unnoticed, and was to be remembered when the crisis came. 

Meanwhile one of the main tasks set for the Commander-in- 
Chief as a result of the conclusion of the Axis pact was an exam- 
ination of the war potentialities of Italy. His contacts with his 
opposite number in that country, and with various other senior 
officers of the Italian Army, were frequent ; but the job was not 
an easy one because he had to deal with a certain amount of bluff 
on the part of Mussolini, who wanted to sell his military collabor- 
ation for economic support on the part of the Reich. Von Fritsch 
had discovered earlier that all was not well with the Italian armed 
forces, and that quite a considerable proportion of the published 
armament programme remained on paper. In his efforts to study 
the Italian Army mobilisation plans, von Brauchitsch was con- 
stantly interfered with by the German Foreign Minister, Joachim 
von Ribbentrop who, as the chief architect of the Axis alliance 
wanted to see his work consolidated at any price. 

On 5th April 1939 von Brauchitsch and General Pariani, the 
Italian Secretary of State for War, met at Innsbruck. Italy occu- 
pied Albania immediately afterwards, and two events followed 
beyond the Axis borders that were of major significance for the 
future. First, Great Britain introduced compulsory military ser- 
vice; secondly, the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, Stoyadinovitch, 
declared his leaning, long since formed, towards the Axis partners, 
despite his country's sympathy for England and all that England 

117 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

stood for in Balkan memory. The German talks with Italy were 
now enlarged, and von Brauchitsch went to Italy, where he saw 
Mussolini at his tetreat at Rocca della Caminate, near Forli. 
Also taking part at these conferences were the Italian Minister of 
Finance, Admiral Thaon di Revel, as well as General Teruzzi 
(colonies) and General Russo (militia). 

The obvious deficiencies of the Italian army were glossed over 
by the Italians with the excuse that the Italian colonies would now 
more than ever serve to guard the southern flank of the European 
continent during any future war. General Teruzzi's reports were 
more rosy than credible; they were of such exaggerated excellence 
that von Brauchitsch made up his mind to inspect Cyrenaica and 
Tripolitania for himself. For this journey, on which he was again 
accompanied by Pariani, he used special 'Gibli' planes, adapted 
for flying during sandstorms. Yet, as if the weather conspired to 
expose the inefficiency of Italian preparations, the party was 
forced down in exactly such a sandstorm as had been guarded 
against. This was at Ara Fileni, after Marshal Balbo, the Governor 
and Commander-in-Chief of Tripolitania, had personally made 
all arrangements for the plane's safe landing. The impression von 
Brauchitsch gained was naturally unfavourable. 

On the occasion of the German Commander-in-Chief 's return 
to Rome, Mussolini ordered one of his fantastic parades, in which 
30,000 men, 300 guns, 700 machine-guns and a thousand cars with 
many reserve officers passed before the Duce. In his subsequent 
speech, which was ostensibly addressed to the masses outside the 
Palazzo Venezia, but which was intended for the German Com- 
mander-in-Chief he said : 'You have seen a memorable military 
parade. Undoubtedly our military strength is great, but the 
decision of our hearts is still greater, and when and if the hour 
comes we shall prove it.' Still von Brauchitsch was not con- 
vinced, and he returned to Berlin with the conviction that Italy 
would become a liability rather than an asset in any future war. 

When von Ribbentrop saw that the very qualified opinion 
which the Commander-in-Chief had formed of Italy as an ally 
was about to break up the Axis pact he used an argument against 
which von Brauchitsch had no reply. Von Ribbentrop, who was 
accepted by Hitler as an authority on Great Britain and British 
questions, said that the time-lag in British rearmament would be 

118 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

so great that even the most imperfect Italian preparations in the 
Middle East would be sufficient to give the Axis control of the 
Mediterranean for years to come. Von Ribbefitrop had also met 
Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister at the Villa d'Este, and 
had received the Italian version of the Commander-in-Chief 's tour 
of inspection, and as a further argument he had represented to 
Hitler that von Brauchitsch was not objective in his report on the 
military effectiveness of Italy, but was influenced by his dislike of 
anything Fascist or National Socialist. Again Hitler was inclined 
to believe von Ribbentrop and his supporters inside the German 
Government. 

While international high tension continued, von Brauchitsch 
indirectly replied to von Ribbentrop in an address to the Nazi 
Party district leaders in the Palatinate in western Germany, where 
he expressed his faith in the Fuhrer in terms that were new to him. 
The German Army will hoist the German flag wherever Hitler 
commands,' he declared. The soldier indeed seemed to be giving 
place to the diplomat. A complete accord was reached at Wal- 
hausen, and was confirmed two days later during a dinner party 
in Karlsruhe. Clearly von Brauchitsch had decided not to insist 
on the opinion he had formed of Italy's military weakness. 

In a further effort to counter the political machinations of von 
Ribbentrop and the rest of the Party and to establish his position 
with Hitler, von Brauchitsch dropped all reserve in references to 
Poland, making a more combative declaration than any that had 
yet come from even Goebbels or von Ribbentrop. One of the 
most conspicuous examples was his address to 2,500 cadets at the 
Tannenberg monument in East Prussia, when he said : 'I wish to 
emphasise that this land (East Prussia) is ancient German land. 
Hitler knew that when he said that it was important to free 
Prussia truly and completely. To affirm to-day that Prussia is 
German is an answer to those who put forward supposed claims to 
this territory, and who would make believe that the strength of its 
maintenance as German is no longer what it was. That is a mistake 
which a soldier does not like to refute with words. We do not seek 
battle but we fear it still less'. 

With this speech von Brauchitsch, with a disappointing collapse 
of principle, fell completely into line with the propaganda tftat had 
been issued by Goebbels' office on the Wilhelmplatz. To attempt 

119 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

to brand Poland as an aggressor against East Prussia was trans- 
parent chicanery, for the world and the simplest of Germans knew 
that nothing was fJhher from the intention of the Polish Govern- 
ment than to attack a single square mile of German territory. For 
Nazi policy, however, the utterances of the Commander-in-Chief 
at this particular moment had a weighty effect, if only because his 
statements had always been cautious and based on facts rather 
than purposeful assumptions. His collaboration with the German 
propaganda machine at this stage may in fact have been of de- 
cisive value, and this should be taken seriously into account by 
those who would separate German militarists from the Nazi 
Party. 

At the grand strategical conference of all German leaders pre- 
sided over by Hitler on 8th August, 1939 von Brauchitsch exam- 
ined the military situation as it might develop in the next few weeks 
or days. Here von Brauchitsch launched his master-stroke in 
diplomacy against some of his colleagues in the army whom he 
had always considered unqualified for the positions they held. 
After a strategical survey of Europe, backed by the researches of 
all departments of the German General StafT and by plans that 
had been formed within the Reichswehr Ministry during the 
preceding twelve years, von Brauchitsch gave his judgment on 
the military Under Secretary of State, the man who was ambitious 
enough to think he was the close rival of the Commander-in- 
Chief General Wilhelm Keitel. The case which Keitel attempted 
to make contrasted sharply with the calm but acute and com- 
prehensive arguments of his accuser, and now Hitler saw more 
clearly than ever that he could not do without a Commander-in- 
Chief of von Brauchitsch's calibre. 

Before the start of operations against Poland, von Brauchitsch 
had made it a cardinal point that he should be assured of Russian 
neutrality. He was possibly better informed than anyone else 
about the strength of the Russian Army, and on such a subject his 
judgment was unquestioned inside the German Army. At the same 
time it is not true, as has been reported, that he had threatened to 
resign should Russia not remain neutral. It was understood that 
the condition of Russian neutrality was assumed by the German 
High Command. The Polish campaign thus started on the lines 
of a plan that was almost identical with that drawn up by von 

120 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

Fritsch, and it was conducted with no interference whatever on 
the part of Hitler or the Party or the Government. 

After the conclusion of the Polish campaign, Wider, intoxicated 
by the heady wine of victory, returned to his headquarters at 
Godesberg on the Rhine with the idea that a small-scale German 
offensive in the sector of Saarbriicken, the only point where the 
French had shown some activity, was now called for. In this he 
was seconded by Keitel, who took every opportunity to confirm 
the Supreme Commander in any opinion that might clash with 
that of the actual Commander-in-Chief. Von Brauchitsch cut 
short all these plans by tendering his resignation. 

Though the resulting tension inside the German High Com- 
mand was concealed as far as possible, some information did 
leak out to neutral countries, and at the end of October 1 939 the 
Public Relations Department of the German High Command was 
asked by a newspaper correspondent whether it was true that the 
Commander-in-Chief wss tendering his resignation. Keitel, who 
learned of this question, and who had just been severely snubbed 
by von Brauchitsch, instructed one of his minor officials to give 
the following answer: *No German Commander-in-Chief can. 
resign in time of war. He might, however, be dismissed from his 
position.' This was the usual vindictive way in which Keitel 
revenged himself. 

Like the plan of campaign against Poland, the operational 
part of the campaign against Norway had also been drawn up 
before von Brauchitsch took over, but the immediate organisation 
of the forces for this amphibious undertaking was absolutely 
under his personal control. The assembling of German shipping 
as early as February 1940 in the Baltic ports of Danzig, Gdynia 
and Memel, was executed under his personal orders. The subse- 
quent transfer of these forces to the western Baltic ports, and the 
contingent orders to the naval command, were also given by von 
Brauchitsch, though he allowed full credit to the Secretary of 
State of the Air Ministry, General Milch. 

In the campaign in the west, starting 10th May 1940 von 
Brauchitsch's responsibility for the design and execution was more 
complete. Far less than in the case of Poland and Norway could 
he rely on plans that had been made many years before. Both von 
Fritsch and the first Chief of the General Staff, General Beck, had 

121 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

prepared plans for such a large scale operation, and certainly the 
German Army did not embark on this very important phase of 
the war without Itaving previously studied all available schemes : 
but the final touches were added by von Brauchitsch. In peace- 
time conferences of the German General Staff and in discussions 
between chiefs of the operational departments of the Reichswehr 
Ministry, he never tired of pointing out errors made during the 
operations in August and September 1914 that led to the German 
disaster of the Battle of the Marne. 

In these discussions von Brauchitsch always put himself in the 
place of the French Commander-in-Chief, Joffre, and he painted 
pictures of possible French counter-strokes to German plans of 
invasion. Von Brauchitsch was not a complete believer in the 
Schlieffen Plan. He agreed that a push through Holland and 
Belgium against Northern France was the only conceivable' opera- 
tion for the first part of the German offensive against France, but 
differed regarding the second part of this operation. In substanti- 
ating this difference of opinion he referred to events before the 
Battle of the Marne, and upon them based his strongest argument 
in favour of the plan which finally broke resistance in France in 
1940. 

Von Brauchitsch believed that from the start of operations in 
1914 the German Army was running into a trap. He showed that 
General Joffre's arrangements as early as 25th August 1914 must 
lead to the Battle of the Marne, and that this should have been 
recognised by the German High Command. The formation of the 
French 6th Army under General Manoury, which was more or 
less a detached body to the east of the main French forces, and 
the elastic manoeuvres of the French 5th Army a fortnight before 
the Battle of the Marne began, operated according to the plans 
of the French Commander-in-Chief to draw the German 1st and 
2nd Armies into this very trap. Joffre, according to this argument, 
had succeeded in a difficult task despite the fact that he had to ask 
General Lanrezac to cede the command of the 5th French Army 
to General Franchet d'Esperey, an emergency arrangement which, 
calling for cool nerves, had been executed with great skill. 

The movement of the 1st German Army under von Kluck and 
the 2nd Germany Army under von Billow over the Marne and in 
a south-easterly direction upon the Seine, if supcessful, would 

122 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

have forced the bulk of the French Army to fight with a reversed 
front, that is to say, the French would have faced Paris instead 
of defending Paris. But, so argued von Braucfcitsch, would not 
any present French Commander-in-Chief, and especially General 
Gamelin, who had been at Joffre's headquarters during those 
crucial days in 1914, be certain to repeat a manoeuvre that had 
once been so successful? 

Von Brauchitsch calculated that the chances of complete 
success in forcing the French armies to fight with a reversed front 
were only one in ten, and that the overwhelming probability was 
that the German offensive group would see a repetition of the 
Battle of the Marne. With this convincing argument he was able 
to reconstruct the theories of the German General Staff, and to 
establish that the main German objective in any campaign against 
France should be the Channel coast, not immediately the south- 
eastern interior of France. According to this view the outflanking 
of the Maginot Line and the penetration of south-eastern territory 
was of importance only during a second phase of any campaign 
against France. The splitting of the main Allied forces was of 
primary importance, and had to be achieved in the first phase of 
any offensive. Von Brauchitsch acted in accordance with this plan 
when operations started. 

The strategic principle of von Brauchitsch's conception was to 
isolate a strong group of Allied forces in Belgium or Northern 
France, and at the same time to paralyse the remainder of the 
Allied forces on a line roughly from Paris to the north-western 
end of the Maginot Line. In all this the German initiative was 
essential because, if the dictation of movement to the Allies was 
to cease or be interrupted, then the problem that had led to the 
Battle of the Marne would again arise. Any lack of initiative on 
the German side would inevitably result in a serious threat to the 
German right wing. 

Let us take an example. The B.E.F. and the French Fifth Army 
isolated in Belgium and North Western France were kept on the 
defensive until they ceased to become operational formations. If 
that process had been neglected for only a day or two the same 
Allied forces would have at once assumed the role which the suc- 
cessful 6th French Army had assumed during the Battle of the 
Marne in 1914, and would have fallen on to the flank of the 

123 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

Germans. The danger that here loomed up for von Brauchitsch 
was that a larger repetition of the Battle of the Marne could be 
fought somewheitf on the line between Sedan and Luxembourg. 
In all this the Commander-in-Chief was able to the fullest extent 
. to use the new tactical advantages given to the execution of such a 
plan by the existence of armoured formations that possessed the 
speed necessary to achieve quick exploitation of initial 
success. 

Even after the Battle of France it was held in many Allied and 
neutral circles to some extent even in less informed German 
military circles that von Brauchitsch employed in their essen- 
tials the ideas of the Schlieffen Plan of 1912. In reality the Com- 
mander-in-Chicf followed his own lines of thought. To think that 
the Germans achieved their victory simply by the supremacy of 
their material and superior tactics is to give von Brauchitsch less 
than his due. 

The campaign in the west added to the importance of the 
Commander-in-Chief's position in Germany. Such schemings 
on the part of von Ribbentrop and Goebbels as preceded the 
opening of the war in 1939 could not be repeated in war-time. His 
place in German estimation, as in that of the German armed 
forces, was established by success, but this could not be said of 
the Government, still less of the Nazi Party. The practical conse- 
quences became apparent as soon as the Russian campaign started. 
The military formations of the Party, the elite divisions of the 
Waffen SS, which up to that time had not been under fire except 
to a small extent in the Balkan campaign, were now in their 
entirety put at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief, and thus 
largely withdrawn from the control of Himmler. The main idea 
in the creation of this force had been to retain a crack corps a 
hundred per cent fanatically Hitlerite that would offset the power 
and prestige of the military caste in Germany. Though compara- 
tively small in numbers, the significance of this Nazi home force 
became greater the more deeply the Wehrmacht became engaged 
in field operations and the SS became the sole armed power on the 
home front. 

Von Brauchitsch ordered these divisions to be distributed 
among the Army groups that were now attacking Russia. Though 
Himmler might have watched this development with misgivings, 

124 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

he was helpless, in the spring and summer of 1941, to do anything 
about it. 

The German motive in attacking Russia has been misread by 
public opinion again and again. Naturally there*has been a strong 
presumption that Hitler attacked against the better judgment of 
his generals, and even that some of the military leaders were de- 
ceived up to the last moment. This view is but partially true. Von 
Brauchitsch, as the most easterly independent Reichswehr com- 
mander during the years preceding his appointment to the Army 
Group in Leipzig, had made a thorough study of the general 
construction of the Red Army. In this he was assisted by the fore- 
most German panzer specialist, General Heinz Guderian, who 
had closely examined the Russian mechanised forces. Both men 
came to the conclusion that Russia was stronger than was evident 
in watching her peace-time military manoeuvres ; and the opera- 
tions of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939-40 were even more mis- 
leading. 

It is possible to show that the chief of the German High Com- 
mand was under no illusion about Russian strength. His military 
dispositions and his plan of attack were evidence of fore- 
knowledge. Von Braushitsch was one of the followers of the 
German military school of thought that had long been on its 
guard against 'conquests of geography'. The trisection of the 
entire German force von Lecb in the north, von Bock in the 
centre, von Rundstedt in the south was disposed with the object 
of dividing the entire Russian field army during the first few weeks 
and months without being compelled to wage battles many 
hundreds or, as it might have been, over a thousand miles inside 
Russia. The three German bodies of operations their strength 
went far beyond that of army groups were to link up after certain 
advances behind the Russians, and then fight battles of annihila- 
tion. It followed that each of these formations in its entirety was 
part of an enormous pincer movement. 

Operations in Russia, however, developed differently because 
the Russian General Staff was on its guard. The pincers did come 
into action but they protruded from the individual groups that 
should, as a whole, have been part of a larger pincer, and the 
groups themselves operated independently instead of working 
together. In this lies the first cause of the failure of the German 

125 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

campaign in Russia in 1941. To a man of von Brauchitsch's mental 
calibre and strategical training, such a development must have 
become clear soon after the campaign started. In fact, as the 
campaign went forward to its ineffective end, a clash of opinion 
became apparent between Hitler as Supreme Commander and his 
' immediate entourage, made up of officers less gifted than von 
Brauchitsch and some of the members of his High Command. 

The following account of what led to the final dismissal of 
Walther von Brauchitsch as Commander-in-Chief of the German 
armed forces is taken from reliable neutral sources whose repre- 
sentatives were able to watch events on the spot, and this has been 
supplemented with material that has since reached the writer 
from a source of unquestionable integrity. 

Before the last assault on Moscow which was executed against 
the advice and without the assistance of von Brauchitsch the 
problem under discussion inside the German High Command, in 
which Hitler took an active part, was the demand by von Brauch- 
itsch for a withdrawal to a safe and secure winter line west of 
Smolensk, running through part of the Baltic States and ending in 
the western part of the Ukraine. Von Brauchitsch wanted to play 
for safety. Hitler, as Supreme Commander, did not agree, and 
though he had kept quiet and abstained from interfering in mili- 
tary operations during the previous German campaigns, he 
thought that the time had come to make a stand, especially 
after the reverses, not to be concealed, which the German armed 
forces and their professional leaders had now suffered in Russia. 
The usually composed Commander-in-Chief is reported to have 
lost his temper. 

What did this mean? Nothing is rarer among those holding 
great power than toleration of outspoken criticism of their own 
judgment and actions. Even Caesar was no exception, and one 
of the kinder things said of Napoleon was that he could suffer and 
forgive even insolence in his favoured colleagues if only it were 
uttered in private. An eminent public man who is not a saint must 
be governed by vanity and the fear that in allowing his conduct 
to be questioned he will lose prestige in the eyes of others, though 
he certainly will not recognise such pettiness in himself and will, 
as far as possible, crush his critics as a duty to his high office and 
to the State he serves. Personal vindictiveness, by no means an 

126 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

unusual failing with leaders of all nationalities, tends to get mixed 
with what they call national honour. 

Could Hitler, who had out-Heroded Herod and demanded 
worship from other men, be expected to brooft the exposure of 
being put in the wrong in his council on a military question, and 
by a man known by all present to be immeasurably his superior 
in all military matters? Hitler, who had taken the place of Kaiser 
Wilhelm II, and had before him the example of that strident war 
lord's 'Who opposes me him will I shatter'? Hitler, who long 
before, when declaring the will of the Nazi Party, had warned the 
German nation : Those who oppose us will be broken'? 

The issue was so clear that one so perceptive as the then Com- 
mander-in-Chief must have known the risk. It was to be Hitler 
or himself and the army. Even if he knew he must lose, he might 
well have decided that he would no longer play for safety, or 
commit himself more deeply to the gangster Hitler. It was a late 
decision, when we remember von Fritsch, but a decision it prob- 
ably was. And to fall fighting was better than a gradual eclipse 
involving loss of self-respect and perhaps even degradation. 

This personal quarrel was the crisis of the whole business, but 
the stone that started the avalanche was a matter of less im- 
portance, but of historical interest. General Jodl, the leading 
general of Hitler's personal staff, thought any disclosure about 
difficulties of German communication in Russia at that time would 
have a devastating effect upon public morale in Germany. He 
insisted on carrying on propaganda which claimed that everything 
was going well in the east, and he falsified the reports of 
German casualties and exaggerated the losses of the Russians to 
an unbelievable extent. The spokesman of the German High 
Command, General Dittmar, was a willing tool for his purpose. 
Thus von Brauchitsch, who by December 1941 knew that German 
casualties were higher than one million in dead and at least three 
million wounded, saw that the German public was being fed on 
figures that had no relation to the actual truth. He main- 
tained that though Jodl's line might help the High Command over 
a short period and deceive the people at home for a few months, 
the recoil when the real figures became known would be all the 
more devastating, and the resulting deterioration of home morale 
more swift and serious. He therefore strongly advised that the 

127 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

people at home should be told what was going on. One may say 
that he was the first advocate of the gloomy line which Goebbels 
was forced to adopt after Stalingrad in 1942, and which he 
greatly intensified during the bombing of the Ruhr and the 
Rhineland. 

The dismissal of von Brauchitsch came as a shock to the Ger- 
man armed forces and the German people. It had to be softened, 
and the German Government issued a statement in which they 
said that 'von Brauchitsch's farewell took a dignified and solemn 
form in keeping with the greatness of the moment. Although 
nothing is known in Berlin military circles about another appoint- 
ment for Herr von Brauchitsch, these circles emphasise that Herr 
von Brauchitsch has neither been placed "at disposal" nor on the 
retired list ; for in Germany, as happened with Field Marshal von 
Mackensen, a field marshal is never retired.' 

To the German soldier and also to the German civilian one 
thing immediately stood out a mile, and was at the same time 
highly suspicious. This was the fact that the Government (for 
which read Hitler) referred to the former Commander-in-Chief 
only twenty-four hours after his dismissal as Herr von Brauch- 
itsch, which, of course, as every German understood it, meant 
adding insult to injury. The official explanation went on, and 
though it dealt less with von Brauchitsch than with changes in 
the German war direction, it included the following: 

k ln connection with an appeal which the Fuhrer addressed to 
the soldiers of the army and the SS upon concentrating the 
leadership of the whole armed forces and of the supreme com- 
mand of the army in his own hands, it is stated in Berlin to-day 
(22nd December 1941) that the war is now approaching its deci- 
sive stage. It is therefore understandable that the Fuhrer should 
now take over the Supreme Command of the army on which the 
main burden of operations will in future largely rest, in order to 
achieve even greater concentrations of German forces than 
hitherto.' 

'It is recalled in military circles that the plans for the Polish 
campaign in all its stages, the unique Norwegian enterprise, the 
campaign in France and in the Balkans, the occupation of Crete, 
the action of General Rommel in North Africa, above all, the 
tremendous battles of destruction in the East, originated entirely 

128 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

* 

from the spiritual initiative and the inspired strategy of the 
Fiihrer himself, and that thus in practice he has always been lead- 
ing the German Army. So the concentration jf leadership of all 
the forces and of the supreme command of the army in his hands 
may merely be regarded as an elimination of a stage in the mili- 
tary command.' 

So with a stroke of the pen the Fiihrer claimed what had never 
ibeen his work. Von Brauchitsch must have felt it all very bitterly. 
The actual reason for his retirement was given as ill-health, but 
here the usually efficient propaganda authorities in Berlin contra- 
dicted themselves on more than one occasion. According to one 
-official source in Berlin von Brauchitsch was suffering from cardiac 
trouble, while the High Command issued a statement that he 
-was suffering from inflammation of the lungs. The historical fact 
is that shortly after his dismissal he appeared in civilian clothes 
in a Vienna hotel, and enjoyed a long rest without showing any 
signs of ill-health whatever. 

Thus it was that the Commander-in-Chief of the German forces 
who had waged five campaigns disappeared from the active scene. 
His name came back in connection with one of the most astonish- 
ing documents that have left Germany, certainly very much against 
the will of the Government. The Manchester Guardian of 6th 
June 1942 contained the following report : 

*A British United Press correspondent on the German frontier 
writes that he has succeeded in obtaining a copy of the letter to 
Field Marshal von Brauchitsch which created a sensation in Ger- 
many when it was circulated last winter. Not only did it go to von 
Brauchitsch but to other members of the German High Corr}- 
mand, and whoever was responsible for it took good care that 
< copies should also get to a certain foreign correspondent in 
Berlin. It has now been smuggled out of the country. The letter, 
,a violent attack on the Nazi administration and war planning, 
reads in part as follows : 

Clausewitz's maxim to the effect that war is a continuation 
of politics by force presupposes leadership, arms, and equip- 
ment adequate to the successful pursuit of the particular objec- 
tive. We have pursued this objective for several years now and 
our leadership does not appear to have advanced much, if at 
all, towards our goal. 

129 J 



VON BRAUCHITSCH 

We have had great victories Poland, overrun in a few days, 
France, Holland, Belgium, and the Balkans, but have we dealt 
a single disabling blow to our main enemies, the British? They 
fled before our victorious armies in Flanders, and were hope- 
lessly lost at Dunkirk. A mere mopping-up operation re- 
mained, and the next thing we knew was that they were all safe 
in England. Where was our leadership then? Where was our 
Air Force? 

Then, after all the discussion of the Russian problem and 
explanations to the people that a two-front war was im- 
possible, our leaders decided to attack Russia although our 
most formidable enemy was being helped by all other nations 
and British confidence was growing in spite of defeat after 
defeat. Then our leadership debased the honour of the German 
Army with butchers from the SS corps. 

Still the German people think we are going forward to vic- 
tory. But you, General, know better. It is time for you to save 
the German people, without whom the world cannot live. If 
you do not do so everything will be destroyed. What is leading 
us to destruction? what is debasing our whole nation? It is 
Hitler and National Socialism. General, you must act now. 
Your oath no longer binds you, for the desperate need of the 
German people relieves you of it. Do your duty and give life 
again to Germany.' 

The letter concludes with a suggestion that it was written by a 
high German officer. Shortly after its appearance after its exist- 
ence and the fact that it had been widely circulated became 
notorious in Berlin Hitler dismissed von Brauchitsch. 



130 



Field Marshal WilMro 



H>///I laughter ere the jest they hear, 
To pour at will the counterfeited tear; 
And, as their patron hints the cold or heat, 
To shake in dog-days, in December sweat." 

SAMUEL JOHNSON : LONDON, 1738 

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel cannot be ranked, either as a 
soldier or as a man, with those whose careers we have already 
described. Though second only to the Fiihrer as Chief of 
the High Command, he represents nothing in relation to the 
German Army or to the conduct of the war ; and in his character 
there is nothing that makes it difficult for him to accept the morals 
and methods of Hitler and his gang. His role as Hitler's tool suits 
him. His standing in the army, like that of Hitler's Gestapo in 
the nation, might suggest the observation of Confucius 2,500 
years ago: 'When a country is at war it is stirred to its depths 
and the scum rises to the top' that is, if we assume a war 
stealthily planned, like Germany's, for a criminal purpose, 
and prosecuted by means that violate every decent standard and 
every good instinct of mankind. 

It is not to be supposed that Keitel protested to Hitler when he 
knew, as he must have known, that a German soldier in Poland 
would crush the head of a newly born child under his boots before 
the eyes of its Jewish mother. A man does not stand at Hitler's 
right hand if he is not a consistent yes-man. A Keitel succeeds 
more by negative than positive qualities not so much by what is 
in him as by what is left out of him. 

Come face to face for a moment with this war lord of Germany 
who hardly shows his sixty years. He sits impassively behind his 
desk in his office. His grey hair is adequate you can see some of 
the original blond beneath it. His uniform hangs faultlessly upon 
his six-foot soldierly figure. As a visitor you will be received with 
a cold stare. The great man does nothing to break the silence. 
This is part of his technique, for Keitel loves to make a visitor, 
whether soldier or civilian, uncomfortable in his presence. The 
stare continues, and still the Field Marshal says nothing. He may 
sprawl, still not speaking, in his chair. He seems hardly aware of 

131 



KEITEL 

your presence, or he is indifferent. You are to be impressed, not 
he. You must be made to know that his thoughts are away on 
some higher plane. 

Possibly silenc has led you to believe he is really unconscious 
of your presence, and your gaze has wandered to a huge motto 
' that hangs framed in gold behind his desk. 

Wer auf Gott vert mitt 

Undfeste urn sich haut, 

Der hat aufkeinen Sand gebaut. 

Which means roughly that he who trusts in God, and in addition 
lays about him, is batting on a good wicket. 

You forget yourself and smile; worse than that, you forget 
Keitel. He realises it. So you are not impressed? the first note in 
the interview is a throaty roar. To lose this first round in the game 
of first impressions is intolerable to him, and his temper breaks 
before a word has been spoken. 

We will change the scene: Keitel is watching manoeuvres in 
Gross-Born in Pomerania. War has not yet begun, but Keitel is a 
general; he has watched the manoeuvres all day. He has watched 
silently, intently, and now he asks a question. 

4 1 see no artillery, gentlemen. Where is the divisional artillery?' 

There is an uncomfortable silence. In even tones, he repeats his 
question. A staff officer explains in a half whisper. There is no 
artillery. This is a reconnaissance exercise. That story is often told 
in Prussian army messes. 

With the exception of Kleist, Keitel is possibly Hitler's least 
competent general, and there will be nothing less heroic in the his- 
tory of this war than the scene in the caravan at Compiegne after 
Hitler had put his signature to the Franco-German armistice and 
Keitel was left to complete details with the suppliant Marshal 
Petain. 'As soldier to soldier,' Keitel told the octogenarian 
France would not regret this agreement. 

It seems hard, but it is nevertheless just, to recall that the 
octogenarian who was then selling France and Frenchmen into 
slavery was the man who would have abandoned Verdun, and 
who was forced by the spirit of the older France to defend it. The 
immortal They shall not pass', to which so many French soldiers 
were faithful unto death, might well have been 'He shall not run'. 

132 



KEITEL 

Pfctain, who in that war would have abandoned the Channel ports 
and the British, deserved the punishment in this one of being 
dictated to by a creature such as Keitel. 

Wilhelm Keitel was born in 1 882, the son of the owner of a small 
estate who farmed his own land. This was enough to separate 
Tttt ftinTfly from trade but not enough to put it in the Junker 
class. His insistence on social values, though common to German 
officers, was made more sensitive by his unpretentious origin. He 
was not a Prussian, but in course of time he absorbed the caste ob- 
session and distorted it through the medium of his own underlying 
sense of social inferiority. Hence the endless urge to compensate, 
the desire to impress. 

This manifestation is personal but in a larger sense it is also 
national. Keitel's weakness is a national iailing exemplified in the 
Nazi myth of German racial superiority. Shortly before this war 
he visited Egypt, and while there he was joined by a party of 
British officers on a tour of some ancient tombs. For some reason 
there was interference by Egyptian officials. It may have been the 
native genius for making difficulties; there may have been good 
reasons ; but, from whatever cause, the party was prevented from 
seeing certain antiquities. Keitel was furious ; first with the Egyptian 
officials, and then with the British who immediately adapted 
themselves to the situation without forcing a quarrel, and possibly 
a little international friction. Keitel let out one of those typical 
but unfortunate expressions of the German. 'If you don't know 
how to treat these slaves/ he said, 'others will show you.' 

If lack of background is one cause of Keitel's abnormal self- 
assertion, a prolonged lack of success is another. He joined the 
German army in 1901 and soon resigned himself to a monotonous 
existence as a subaltern ; and it was soon evident to his superiors 
that the blond fellow was destined for a career of unrelieved medi- 
ocrity. What could the future hold for him? He had no brains to 
speak of among men chosen and promoted for intelligence and 
professional efficiency. He might, if he stayed the course, work his 
way up to a minor seniority after some thirty or so years. Or they 
would push him into the darkest corner of the eastern provinces, 
where sooner or later he would be axed. There is no need to 
make life grimmer than necessary. And so Keitel was frequently 

133 



KEITEL 

advised by his colonel to retire on reaching the rank of captain 
and seek a more profitable career as a civilian. It is charitable to 
hope that the colinel is long since dead. 

When the 1914 war came, one might have supposed that 
Keitel's chance had arrived, that active service would bring prom- 
ise of success ; but, incredible though it may seem, he did not 
receive mention, decoration or promotion throughout YSic four " 
years. Somehow he landed an administrative job with the 
Flanders Corps under the command of the infamous Admiral 
von Schroeder, who was known by unpleasant names to his asso- 
ciates and still more unplesasant ones to the Belgians. He had 
been called The Lion of Flanders' by the Kaiser, and in the mind 
of Wilhelm Jl this nom de guerre, when bestowed by an emperor, 
placed it on a level with The Scourge of God', 'Coeur de Lion' 
and others. To remain on von Schroeder's staff carried a stigma 
in the eyes of the majority of the German Army, and the more 
uncharitable of his brother officers might have described Keitel's 
new appointment as that 'of butcher's assistant. 

Whatever the duties, the military knowledge gained was small. 
The Admiral himself was not only hated by the Belgians for his 
cruelty but also by his own men for his ambitious and bloody 
military projects. He was, for instance, a devotee of the mass 
frontal attack, a manoeuvre which usually succeeds only with 
appalling loss of life. Keitel, however, had little to do with opera- 
tional work. Without receiving decoration or promotion, as we 
have said, he remained throughout the war on von Schroeder's 
staff, a performance unique in itself, since all his colleagues had 
escaped one by one to a more congenial atmosphere. 

Keitel had one gift. He was quick to see, as Hitler grew more 
powerful, that advancement lay in applauding the aims of the 
Nazi Party and in showing his adoration of the Fuhrer as often 
and as openly as possible. Among his military colleagues the 
competition was not great. Even von Reichenau, known to be in 
sympathy with the Nazis, managed to create the impression that 
he was no more than 'inclined to esteem certain points in the 
Nazi programme'. Hitler, for his part, was swift to recognise a 
friend, or rather a tool. Here was a soft spot in that hard core of 
resistance, that camp of doubtful loyalty, the Reichswehr. 

The post-war years in Germany had brought the overthrow of 

134 



KEITEL 

ancient institutions, divided the existing social and economic 
structure, crushed and levelled. It was a period of every man for 
himself, when past successes as well as past* failures were for- 
gotten, when an idea might gain impetus overnight and the un- 
known adventurer flourish. Thus it was that a man like Keitel, 
together with a host of other undistinguished climbers, pushed his 
way upwards The country had truly been stirred to its depths; 
the scum was rising to the top. 

Despite the strong protests of von Fritsch, Hitler managed to 
establish his new friend as undersecretary in the Reichswehr 
Ministry when von Reichenau left that office to take over the 
command of an army corps. In some ways Keitel became the 
first Quisling spying for his master within the Ministry and 
thereby sparing Hitler anxiety from a quarter where there might 
have been much to fear. To Keitel, in fact, goes the credit for the 
final domination of the Reichswehr by the Nazi Party. When von 
Fritsch was forced to retire in 1938 Hitler rewarded Keitel with 
the appointment of Military Secretary of State in the War Minis- 
try under himself as Supreme Commander and von Brauchitsch 
as Commander-in-Chief. And to-day an ignorant soldier holds 
nominal sway over a man like von Rundstedt. 

Keitel gradually became known to the outside world by his 
repeated presence at the many conferences between Hitler and 
Mussolini. Speeding towards the Brenner in his bullet proof train, 
the Fiihrer was accompanied by his show general. Tall, fair and 
dandified, this immaculate creature was also a good pianist. We 
have seen his counterpart in many a film : the heel-clicking, suave 
exquisite- who easily becomes grim and sinister when occasion 
offers, but softens in the hour of relaxation while his hands caress 
the keys in splendid Wagnerian chords. Among his own country- 
men Keitel enjoys the soubriquet of the comic-strip general. 

As a show-piece, however, Hitler found him useful, though it is 
probable that during important conferences he has learnt to know 
his place. In his master's absence he once attempted to bully 
Mussolini. This was in 1938, over a matter of the use of the 
port of Trieste by Austria. In those days the 'bullfrog of the 
Pontine marshes' was in the full tide of his inflation, and was 
capable of giving as good as he got, and he gave back enough 
to arouse Keitel to vindictive revenge. He advised Hitler not to 

135 



KEITEL 

kiss Queen Helena's hand when introduced to her, and so it came 
about that the Fiihrer, his ministers and generals, bowed deeply 
on introduction t<a the Queen but otherwise ignored the royall 
hand. Only Goebbels failed to play the game, and afterwards 
excused himself by saying he had not heard the general's request. 

As we have seen, it was in the Forest of Compi&gne in the late 
summer of 1940 that Keitel had his finest hour. Here in ih? raik 
way coach that twenty-two years before had seen the climax of 
Germany's humility, Keitel read out Hitler's terms to the con- 
quered French nation. The big man with the little soul at last 
came into his own. 

It is said that there may be merit without eminence; but there 
is no eminence without some merit. What gift in particular besides 
showmanship, what speciality among a crowd of military special- 
ists does Keitel possess? How can he hope to compete with such 
experts as Guderian? At the top of the German Army one must 
necessarily be expert at something. If you were to ask the Field 
Marshal himself, he would answer with two words. His special 
subject is North Africa. Had he not shortly before the war spent 
nearly three months on the African continent, finding time to visit 
Egypt, insult his hosts, and inspect some of the archaeological 
features of the country? He visited the Sudan and as a glorified 
tourist trod the sands of Libya. We do not know what further 
knowledge he acquired in those greenhouses where the Fatherland 
is said to harden her sons for the rigours of desert warfare. 

It is not surprising if Keitel is a difficult, and at times almost 
impossible, man to work with. There are moments when he 
will listen to no one, when he will not even answer but merely 
stare at the questioner with a fixed gaze. On such occasions 
he is doubtless wrapped in communion with the Absolute 
he has made a special study of imitating the Fuhrer. Strangely 
enough he does not care for social functions, preferring out- 
door occupations such as walking and riding, though he is a 
bad horseman. He first discovered his preference for this sort of 
exercise on hearing that the Fuhrer liked men of the open air. 

He lacks humour even for a German, declaring that a signed 
portrait of Hitler is his most precious possession. In October 
1938 he took personal charge of the new map of Czechoslovakia, 
bringing it from Munich to Berlin and indicating proudly that he 

136 



KEITEL 

bore 'his Fiihrer's concrete evidence of a bloodless victory'. 
And it is reported that during the Polish campaign, after the early 
successes of the Reichswehr, he returned to headquarters in com- 
pany with his master. A special compartment had been prepared 
in the train, and during the journey the two men disappeared inta 
this sanctum, where for an hour and a half they indulged in an 
-^ryy ogfrfrrniV Wagnerian music. 

In July 1941 his youngest son Hans, a lieutenant in the Reichs- 
wehr, was killed on the eastern front ; and Keitel, at least in public, 
was emotionally unmoved. It was unGermanic, he said, to mourn 
a son who had attained the supreme honour of losing his life in 
battle. In contrast, when his elder son was wounded and convales- 
cing in Italy, the young man was perpetually followed by affec- 
tionate parental telegrams. 

What is the attitude of Germany's real soldiers towards this 
man? There are generals who treat him to his face with scant re- 
spect, and von Rundstedt has described his activities in the 
Reichswehr Ministry as 'a chain of monkey tricks'. There is 
little doubt that but for his close friendship with Himmler and 
von Ribbentrop he would long ago have been replaced by an 
abler man. His case has even engaged the attention of the 
higher army medical authorities. While von Brauchitsch was 
his superior the question of Keitel's mental balance came to a 
head, and the medical authorities proposed to submit documents 
to prove his instability. 

The career of Keitel is an object lesson to us, and at the same 
time a possible source of comfort. The democracies do not 
hold a monopoly for stupidity in high places. In the wake of 
Hitler's successes we are now beginning to see the shadows of 
relentlessly pursuing blunders. It may well be that among these 
history will point a silent finger at the name of Wilhelm Keitel. 



137 



Field Marshal fcdov von Bock 

The blood fythe soldier makes the glory of the General 

H. C. BOHN ; HANDBOOK OF PROVERBS 

Of medium-height, thin but wiry, the general is still very 
active at 63 years of age. His piercing grey e v ^ in 3 
severely lined face look uncompromisingly through you, 
softened by no pretence of pleasantness. He is content to appear 
what he is, a disciplinarian, but his cold detachment would be 
more seemly in a hangman. Speaking with the nasal accent gener- 
ally acquired by the Prussian Guards officer, he always behaves 
in accordance with the conventions of his type, movements jerky, 
gestures abrupt; and his conversation, even with civilians, is 
carried on with the staccato of dictated field orders. He will ask for 
extreme privation from his men, but he will share it. His orders 
become law the moment they are issued, and they are unchange- 
able, even for himself. 

Despising the 'softening influences of culture and civilisation', 
as he calls them, von Bock should have been born during the 
time when Prussia alone counted in Germany. There was no 
response from him to the National Socialist Government's efforts 
to break down barriers of local tradition and custom between the 
originally very distinct states and districts of Germany. For him 
Prussian conduct and mannerisms are superior and Prussia's 
own, not to be imitated by the less fortunate. The supremacy 
of Prussia and Prussianism is a deep conviction religiously 
held by him, and if he is aware of other spheres of life than that of 
the army, or of other human beings than those in uniform, he 
gives them no consideration. 

The 'death and glory' theory is no mere propagandist device in 
the mind of von Bock. He is among those who, by that cult of 
death, have made Germany for generations the Ishmaelite among 
nations and turned her hand against others ; men who have too 
successfully opposed the spread of liberal thought towards peace 
and a more abundant life. 

Hardened by training, strengthened by a fanatical belief in his 
professional life, he can fast for many hours and then be 
indifferent to what he eats and drinks. A man pays for the one- 

138 



VON BOCK 

sided development of his temperament. Von Bock has admitted 
that the only form of entertainment to which he can respond is 
the music of brass bands. Nor is any inclination to fellowship 
conspicuous in his make-up. 

His word is not as true as his sword, for mental agility aqd 
duplicity are his weapons, suited indeed to the methods of 
Pnii*ft?n governments. An English Liberal journal, rebuking 
Lord Roberts for his warnings in 1913, once asked when Prussia 
had broken her pledged word. The example of von Bock, as that 
of Prussia before and since 1914, makes a mockery of such mis- 
placed idealism, for the purpose of the German Army has never 
been thwarted or deflected by past promises and assurances, 
and the Versailles Treaty never was allowed to impede rearma- 
ment under Hitler. 

Von Bock willingly sacrifices personal comfort for military 
efficiency, but never his own prestige for the sake of giving due 
credit to others. Aware of his own limitations he will listen to 
advice from his staff and act upon it, but without any gesture of 
acknowledgment. His career tells us as much of Germany's 
military failures as of her successes, and helps us to appraise her 
moral littleness. 

Fedor von Bock was born on 4th December 1 880 in the small 
out-of-date fortress of Kiistrin. He was a son of the Prussian 
general Moritz von Bock. We shall not understand von Bock 
without a close acquaintance with his childhood, where may be 
found the key to his ideas and characteristics that have puzzled 
not only the German Army but his own friends. 

The old fortress of Ktistrin on the river Oder, east of Berlin, 
was full of memorials of Prussia's early fighting history, but had 
lost its military importance long before young Fedor began to 
observe the world about him. The eastern side of the Reich was 
then protected by the strong fortress belt of Thorn-Graudenz- 
Danzig on the banks of the river Vistula. Kustrin was not even a 
second-class fortress, but it supported a small garrison which was 
quartered in shelters and barracks that dated from the times of 
Frederick II, 130 years back, and the whole town bore witness 
to the period known inside Prussia as 'Frederician'. It was here 
that young Frederick had been taught the tragic lesson that 

139 



VON BOCK 

changed his life, and nothing was more deeply ingrained in the 
thought and feeling of Fedor. Frederick, as Crown Prince, leaned 
towards art and literature, and therefore towards France as the 
fount of European culture. The strong and well-trained army 
which his father had created at the expense of the welfare of 
Prussia was not even a recreation for him, still less a serious in- 
terest. So foreign to his nature were the military enthusiasms^bfhl:, * 
father, the 'soldier king', that he had made plans to escape to 
England, marry an English princess, and leave the spiritually 
barren Court of Berlin. He was to be helped by two young officer 
friends, Katte and Keith. 

Captured in escaping from Prussia, he and his friends were 
imprisoned in the fortress of Ktistrin. Katte was executed in the 
fortress yard before the Prince's eyes. To teach his son a lesson,' 
Frederick William I ordered that he should be made to stand with 
his head against the window of his cell overlooking the courtyard, 
with his eyes open to see his friend die for a fault that was 
primarily his own. This was Prussian discipline. 

Kiistrin thus stood in the minds of certain classes in Prussia 
as a symbol for discipline stern and ruthless, overriding all human 
and family ties. It represented the cornerstone of that conception 
of life which made Prussia. Thus, in the years between 1880 and 
1895 the son of a Prussian general in his most impressionable 
years was imbibing these lessons of a past history which were to 
soak into the very tissues of his mind, and the hours which young 
Fedor von Bock spent on the banks of the old fortress moat left 
an indelible mark upon him. 

With this background he joined the famous cadet schools of 
Potsdam and Gross-Lichterfelde near Berlin. His ingrained 
Prussianism was apparent even among these young cadets bred 
in the tradition of Brandenburg-Prussian history, readily recep- 
tive to discipline in thought and action. He was a conspicuous 
fanatic who even denied himself healthy relaxation and the boyish 
jokes and games that have a place even in Prussia's military 
schools. Every day, every hour not filled by some study of military 
science, by drill or other special aspect of an officer's education, 
was wasted for him, and he talked openly and much to his friends 
about his way of life. He tried, even while a cadet, to improve the 
methods of his teachers and of his commanding officer. No 

140 



VON BOCK 

severity of regimentation could satisfy him. 

In all this he showed a temperament more earnest and purpose- 
ful than was at all common among the scjris of the Prussian 
upper class, where, indeed, stolidity and even lethargy are fre- 
quent, if not general. He liked to impress his colleagues with his 
piercing eyes, abrupt gestures and a general sense of urgency, and 
they^ware of his historical background, nicknamed him The 
HolyFire of Kiistrin'. Yet while making fun of his excess of 
Prussian zeal they respected him as a sincere devotee : he was one 
of them, separated only by greater gifts and a deeper sense of 
dedication. 

His devotion to Prussian ism was more marked in him than 
his intellectual power, and the highest scholastic attainments 
were beyond him. Of this he was fully conscious, and strove to 
make up by industry and diligence what he lacked in intellect. 
More than once he remained in Berlin during the holidays in 
order to complete his studies, a sacrifice more remarkable in a 
cadet than in a fully commissioned officer. But to his comrades this 
seemed like stealing a march, and he was dubbed a place-hunter, 
a reputation that stuck to him in his later and more responsible 
career. 

In 1898 he joined the 5th Regiment of Prussian Foot Guards, 
one of the crack infantry formations of old Imperial Germany. 
In this regiment there were two definite classes, the young sub- 
alterns up to and including captains, and the hardened, ex- 
perienced field officers whose ambitions more often centred 
around the court in Berlin and Potsdam than in their military 
duties. These seniors were apt to frown on youthful eagerness. 
As a go-getter von Bock was not popular, but he won some of the 
early rewards he sought. When a second lieutenant he was ap- 
pointed battalion A.D.C. in 1904. Two years later, still a second 
lieutenant, he became regimental A.D.C., and in 1908 a first 
lieutenant. 

The regimental A.D.C. to a Guards Regiment is a conspicuous 
position, and he was now in contact with circles in Berlin that 
could add favour to merit. The Court, the Government, political 
leaders of the Right, and the many cliques and associations that 
formed the background of the ruling class in Prussian Berlin 
took notice of young officers in prominent positions in the crack 

141 



VON BOCK 

Guards. If von Bock had wanted such a career as can be founded 
less on professional claims than on personal influence in adminis- 
trative-civilian quavers he could have had it. But his aim was 
higher. 

He had set his mind, as he had confessed to friends in earlier 
days, on joining the General Staff whatever the cost. But during 
these years he learned, without receiving a formal rebuff, 'J^ntjjg 
was not wanted. Efficiency and industry were not enough to get 
a young subaltern admitted to the General Staff. Natural gifts 
were needed that could never be obtained by work. The firebrand 
von Bock, known for his flamboyant speeches in the officers' 
mess of the 5th Guards, was not exactly the type that was sought 
by the General Staff, and it was equally impossible to have a man 
in that select corps who in the past had relied largely on crammers 
and other aids to push himself into the limelight. He was given 
to understand that the selection department for the General 
Staff required more discretion in their candidates; and he was 
quick to adapt himself. Less was now heard in the officers' mess 
of his slogan that l a soldier's profession should always be crowned 
by a heroic death in battle, sealing his definite mission for 
Emperor and Fatherland with the supreme sacrifice'. His self- 
appointed mission to 'educate spiritually' the officers in the 5th 
was abandoned. 

During subsequent Imperial manoeuvres he concentrated 
solely on the practical side of his job, and at last in 1910 was 
transferred to the General Staff, though at first only in a tempor- 
ary capacity, and by 1912, with the rank of captain, he had 
established himself firmly. Witty brother officers in the red-brick 
building on the Konigsplatz in Berlin remembered too well his 
past declarations, he was still branded as The Fanatical Dier', 
and, though less vocal, he was never to lose the nickname. 
Indeed, when war was declared in August 1914 and the casualties 
piled higher every day, his passion for death in the field broke 
out again. To be killed by an enemy bullet, he would say, was a 
thing to be truly grateful for, and he went about improving the 
occasion, hurrying the German soldier to his happy doom. 

It is known that if the General Staff had had the men to replace 
him, von Bock would have been ordered to the front during the 
autumn of 1914, when the German Army lost a high percentage of 

142 



VON BOCK 

its officers in the field. Through this lack of officers alone, perhaps, 
he was able to hold his position on the General Staff up to 1916, 
when he took over a battalion of the 4th Pru^ian Foot Guards. 
It was in this command that he was decorated with the Order 
Pour le Mdrite, though it is not known exactly why he receive4 
it. The official citation does not refer to his bravery with the 
jalmos^fcrmal adjective 'conspicuous', but describes it as 'incred- 
ifele', a word unique in the official German military language of 
that time. 

The rhetorical fire-eater withstood the test of the actual flames, 
which does not always happen. Von Bock has been justly credited 
with cool nerves as well as with a complete disregard for his own 
life, but, these attributes were not enhanced by the equal disregard 
he had for the lives of the officers and men under his command. 
Major von Bock, as he was by then, rs well remembered in the 
annals of the Prussian Guards for his ruthless exposure of his 
troops as well as of himself. Men who served under him re- 
member him standing on the first step leading out of a trench a 
few seconds before zero hour, calmly smoking a cigarette, flicking 
his hand-made riding boots with a whip, refusing a tin hat, and 
'going over the top' promptly and without any sign of excite- 
ment. 

But if not death, then glory. Von Bock knew that there was no 
future for an ambitious field officer in trench warfare, and though 
the way back to the General Stall in Berlin was barred he managed 
to get himself attached as First General Staff Officer to the 200th 
Infantry Division. This was a reserve division, in personnel not 
exactly up to the standard of the Guards; and von Bock did not 
feel at home. As a lecturing, hectoring regular, he was intensely 
disliked by the officers of the divisional staff, many of them from 
southern Germany, and though von Bock's position in the divi- 
sion was unassailable because of his office, he suffered something 
like social ostracism. It could not be otherwise with his acute 
sense of superiority, and in his confidential reports to friends in 
Berlin he referred to his brother officers as 'these part-time sol- 
diers of Bavaria and Wurttemberg, with whom I have now to asso- 
ciate myself. The most docile German does not like being de- 
spised, even by other Germans. 

An appointment to the staff of the Army Group under the 

143 



VON BOCK 

command of the Imperial Crown Prince, therefore, came as a 
great relief to him. Relations between the Crown Prince and 
Major von Bock \^re most cordial. Indeed Major von Bock and 
the Army Group Commander, heir to His Imperial Majesty, 
^changed the familiar 'Dif instead of the more formal "Sie" when 
addressing each other. Under the Chief of Staff of this Army 
Group, Count Frederick von der Schulenburg, von Bocfc hplrt 
the position of General Staff Officer IA. 

The Army Group 'Kronprinz* had made a high reputation for 
itself. Consisting of the best Regular Army formations and 
subsequently strengthened by the best reserve reinforcements, it 
was undoubtedly the strongest of the larger strategical units in the 
entire German Army. In return for the strength given to it, much 
was expected; hence its excessive casualties, which were some- 
times twenty to thirty per cent higher than in other army groups. 
The younger subalterns and the N.C.O.s and men did not speak 
kindly of their Imperial Group Commander and his staff, and were 
convinced that they were led by reckless and unskilled officers. 
Feeling ran high in that group, and only the strictest discipline 
prevented it from breaking asunder during the years of 1917-18. 

Military history, however, corrects this verdict and shows that 
the tasks allotted to the group were such that no skill in the 
command could have avoided heavy losses. 

For good or ill, the army group leader and his staff lived 
apart, even more remote mentally than physically from the 
critics under their command ; they knew nothing of the criticism. 
What was more serious, just as this complacent command ignored 
the world below it, so it was ignored from above. 

When news of the pending armistice reached the staff of the 
Army Group 'Kronprinz\ the Crown Prince Wilhelm, his Chief 
of Staff and his General Staff Officers, it was a shock for which 
they were completely unprepared. They were incredulous. So 
extreme was von Bock's egotism that he reported the same even- 
ing to the Crown Prince that he had been insulted in the open 
street by a private soldier, and in much the same state of mind he 
left his post in an effort to prevent the Kaiser's abdication. 
When later, in the headquarters of the High Command of the 
Imperial German armed forces, Field Marshal von Hindenburg 
and Generals Ludendorff, Groener and Heye had persuaded the 

144 



VON BOCK 

Kaiser as Supreme Commander to abdicate and to escape to 
Holland, Major von Bock reported to his Chief of Stall, General 
Graf von der Schulenburg, and informed him tj^at he, the General 
and the Crown Prince, had been urgently asked to report to the 
High Command in Spa in order to attempt to persuade the Kaiser, 
to resist. Von Bock managed to create the impression that this 
.offtefJadEi come from von Hindenburg and his generals as a last 
minute effort to bring the Kaiser back to his senses, as von Bock 
put it. As is known, this was a complete distortion of the truth. 

The Crown Prince Wilhelm writes in his memoirs* : 

'During the night of the 8-9th November General Count von 
der Schulenberg was ordered by telephone by Major von Stiilp- 
nagel to Spa for the 9th November. Major von Bock received this 
order. Reasons why Count von der Schulenberg ought to go and 
who wanted to talk to him were not given.' 

As soon as this telephone order was handed to the Chief of 
Staff, the Crown Prince and Count von der Schulenberg hurried 
to Spa, where they arrived on 9th November, to the surprise of 
Hindenburg and his staff. The Crown Prince immediately tried to 
persuade his father to resist the abdication plan and to lead back 
part of the retreating army, which was still loyal to him. Von 
Hindenburg was not long in getting rid of the Crown Prince, and 
events took their well-known course. * 

It is with von Bock's little effort that we are concerned. His 
views are now known. He thought that if the German Army 
was forced to admit that it had lost the war against the Allies, 
it could at least attempt to win a second war a civil war inside 
Germany. He thought at that time that it would have been easy 
to come to terms with the Allies through their fear of Communist 
and Socialist disorder in Germany. Von Bock was an early trader 
in the Bolshevik 'bogey'. 

There had never been a telephone call from the High Com- 
mand, and the presence of the Crown Prince was not only not 
wanted but highly disturbing. Because von Bock was a diehard 
in a lost cause as well as a professional die-easy in the army, he 
went on looking for some way out when those who knew best 
had recognised that Germany was defeated ; and it was like him to 

+Erinnerungen des Kronprinzen Wilhelm. Rotta'sche Buchhandlung, Stutt- 
gart and Berlin. 1923, p. 294. 

145 K 



VON BOCK 

give no thought to the people at home or the men under his com- 
mand. If the predominance of his caste and the existence of the 
old order could Ijave been secured by civil war, he would have 
trained his guns on any town in revolt without counting the cost 
in human suffering. 

His self-appointed mission to Spa had no sanction in any code 
of discipline, but it was a new revelation of von BocfcJiimsel 
His brother officers read in it personal ambition alone, and 
thought it gave a new and merely personal meaning to his high- 
falutin' death-or-glory patriotic speeches. They went as far as to 
say that von Bock was little concerned even about the Imperial 
regime in November .1918, its maintenance and its survival, but 
that he saw himself as the saviour of an existing order, a part 
that would bring him into the limelight. He adapted himself so 
adroitly to the new turn of events, however, that only a year 
later, in 1919, he was again in an official position, employed as an 
active officer at the Army Peace Commission, which dealt with 
the question of general demobilisation and the re-establishment of 
nucleus formations for a new army of the Republic of Weimar 
the Reichswehr. Thus he stood by the cradle of the new army 
that was to develop so formidably twenty years later. 

To an outside world this army commission dealt mainly with 
demobilisation and the breaking-up of the framework of the old 
Imperial Army. The commission liked to compare itself with the 
receiver in bankruptcy. There was, however, another side to its 
activities, and in this Major von Bock played a large part. It was 
understood that the army of 100,000 men permitted by the Treaty 
of Versailles would receive the immediate attention of this com- 
mission, yet von Bock contrived to set in operation a method of 
illegal recruitment that was designed to raise the strength of the 
army beyond the prescribed 100,000. 

This was known as * Krumperformation\ an expression bor- 
rowed from the time when Prussia was trying to raise a new army 
against Napoleon after the defeats of Jena and Auerstadt in 1806 
and 1807. It implied that with a limited army a mass of recruits 
would pass through for short service. The Treaty of Versailles 
had provided that the professional soldiers of the 100,000 army 
would have to serve twelve years, officers for 24 years. When the 
flagrant breach of the treaty became too ovbious it was von Bock 

146 



VON BOCK 

who worked on the establishment of full military formations that 
did not appear official at all but were nevertheless at times 
stronger than the regular Reichswehr. 

All this was distinct from the many so-called free corps which 
were now springing up in Germany like mushrooms, promoted 
either by the Government or some right-wing Nationalist group. 

QHpt4lfe completion of this move, which was fundamental in 
Germany's secret rearmament programme, von Bock was ap- 
pointed Chief of Staff of the 3rd Military District (Berlin) in 1920, 
and held the position until 1923. In this capacity he looked after 
the illegal Reichswehr formations east of Berlin, where the chief 
recruiting districts of the main garrison establishment were. At 
first he camouflaged so successfully the existence of these forma- 
tions that they escaped the attention of the Inter-Allied Com- 
mission of Military Control. With arms and munitions he was 
less successful. In November 1921 an enormous quantity of 
artillery and other machinery that should have been destroyed 
long before was discovered at the Rockstroh Works at Heidenau 
in Saxony. The Treaty of Versailles allowed the German Army 
84 guns, that is, 21 batteries of 10.5 howitzers. In Heidenau alone, 
600 howitzers were now discovered, besides 342 breech blocks 
and other components of howitzers. Beneath the flooring of the 
works, hidden in good condition, were five rifling machines, 
important for the construction of guns. These machines could not 
easily be replaced. 

Again, at the Spandau Arsenal near Berlin there were documents 
secretly stored in two rooms piled up to the ceiling, and in 
them the Berlin military district retained the names of artillery 
engineers and specialists for further service. When the existence 
of these papers was reported to the Inter-Allied Control Com- 
mission, they opened an investigation and asked the German 
Government to put armed guards in front of the two rooms. 
When the Commission arrived the rooms were empty. The 
sentry on guard was sentenced to six days confinement in bar- 
racks, but two months later he was promoted sergeant- 
major by the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Military District, Lieut.- 
Colonel von Bock. 

In January 1922 the Inter-Allied Commission of Military 
Control announced that, despite the Heidenau incident, 120 

147 



VON BOCK 

officers and 230 men would leave the commission, whose Dresden 
centre would thus completely disappear. A report published by 
the commission $>n disarmament in Bavaria showed that the 
so-called Citizens' Force had handed some of their rifles over, but 
the majority had smuggled them to Austria, especially to the 
Tyrol, where they were kept for the happy day when the Allied 
Control people should have left Bavaria, and they could bs handed 
back to their original Bavarian owners. 

The decrease in strength of the Inter-Allied Commissiou ^^ , 
great relief to the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Military District, 
von Bock, because from the beginning it had effectively curtailed 
his illegal reserves of war material. According to the report (May 
1923) of Lieut. -Colonel Guinness, then Under-Secretary of State 
for War in the British Government, the German Government had 
voluntarily surrendered to the Commission : 

33,550 guns (with barrels) 
38,107,604 shells 

1 1,616 trench mortars 
87,950 machine-guns 
4,560,861 small arms 
459,903,800 rifle ammunition 

Material destroyed before the Allied Control Commission was 
established, according to this report, amounted to : 

8,618 guns 
6,220,311 shells 

2,635 trench mortars 
6,004 machine-guns 
580,395 small arms 
31,960,000 rifle ammunition. 

This material was said to have been destroyed under the super- 
vision of the German authorities, and for that reason the figures 
are open to question. 

The Allied Control Commission discovered the following 
material and had it destroyed : 
63 guns complete 
7 trench mortars 
840 machine-guns 
43,380 small arms 
6,927,496 rifle ammunition 

148 



VON BOCK 

In a reply to Sir William Davison (M.P. for South Kensington), 
Lieut-Colonel Guinness said that there were at that time 150,000 
police in Germany, armed to the extent of onecifle to three men, 
one revolver per man, and 340 machine-guns and 150 armoured 
cars for the entire force. 

In camouflaging the number of personnel and the budget 
authorising the pay of these men von Bock at first seemed to be 
more successful. His chief henchman was a certain retired Major 
Buchrucker. The general public first learned of the existence of 
these illegal formations which were officially termed Labour 
Companies in 1923, when Major Buchrucker thought that the 
time had come to assert their right of existence. He staged a sort of 
putsch, which had for its object the seizure of the fortress of 
Kiistrin, von Bock's birthplace. The coup failed. The Reichs- 
wehr tried by every means to hush up the incident, becaus'e 
publicity would tend to tear aside the veil of legality which the 
Government and its Reichswehr Ministry tried to preserve in its 
relations with the Allies and other foreign governments. 

For four years von Bock successfully held his position as Chief 
of Staff and carried on his clandestine activities. In 1924 the 
Reichswehr Ministry thought it wise to replace him and to put him 
in charge of the Second Battalion of the Infantry Regiment No. 4 
at Kolbergin Pomerania. TheCommander-in-Chiefofthe Reichs- 
wehr, Colonel General Hans von Seeckt, did not like having 
officers in highly responsible positions who had made the mistake 
of allowing the public to know anything about the illegal activities 
of the regular armed forces of the Republic. But exposure was 
to come. 

While the Reichswehr authorities had managed only too well 
to keep the existence of the formations hidden from the eyes of 
the Allies, they had acted with little foresight in their treatment of 
some of the volunteers serving in the Black Reichswehr. From the 
year 1926 a whole series of legal actions brought by aggrieved 
men against the Reichswehr Ministry disclosed the treacherous 
activities of von Bock and his friends. 

On 31st January 1926 the so-called Feme murder trials started. 
Feme was the organisation employed to purge the Black Reichs- 
wehr of volunteers who showed a disposition to inform the 
Inter-Allied Commission of the existence of their battalions, or to 

149 



VON BOCK 

complain of them to left wing party politicians, who might at any 
time use the information to embarrass the Republican Govern- 
ment. The Feme was composed of several officers, N.C.O.s and 
men who during the years 1920-23 had staged 'courts-martial', 
under whose verdicts they killed a number of people. The head of 
the German Government, Reichskanzler Dr. Stresemann, a 
Democrat, and Reichswehr Minister Dr. Gessler, also a^Dema 
crat, feared that an open trial of these militarist criminals would 
excite the suspicious attention of the Treaty powers. 

A case was opened against officers of the 'Regiment von Sen- 
den', namely Baron von Senden himself, Captain Gutknecht, 
Aschenkamp, Stein, Schirrmann, and another officer, Lieutenant 
Benn, who were accused of having murdered private soldier 
Panier. After two days' hearing of the charges Baron von Senden 
and Captain Gutknecht were acquitted, and Aschenkamp, Stein, 
Schirrmann and Benn were condemned to death, the latter as an 
accessory. During these trials the Reichswehr authorities insisted 
that the murdered private soldier Panier should be referred to in 
official records as the 'Baker Panier', his former occupation, thus 
trying to give the whole matter a civilian colour. None of the 
sentences was ever executed. 

In November 1926 another case started, against the illegal 
garrison of the Fortress of Kustrin, where von Bock's personal 
friend Buchrucker had been in command. The Reichswehr 
authorities attempted to deny responsibility or even knowledge 
of the case, but their efforts were not perfectly co-ordinated and 
'indiscretions' committed by the Minister of the Reichswehr 
himself helped to give the game away. 

Here are some highlights of the exposure : 

Lieutenant Janke, a member of Buchrucker's force, believed he 
had been poisoned because it had been discovered by Buch- 
rucker that he had sold a certain amount of rifle ammunition to 
left-wing party formations. Lieutenant Buchholtz and the 
N.C.O.s Thorn and Rathmann were accused. Colonel Gudovius, 
who commanded the Kustrin district in 1923, was called on to 
give evidence. The court tried to force him to disclose full evidence 
on the subject of the existence of these illegal formations in his 
district, but the Colonel successfully asserted his right to refuse to 
answer on the ground that State security was involved. 

150 



VON BOCK 

At one point Lieutenant Buchholtz tried his utmost to establish 
the legal character of the formation in which he was serving, 
affirming that he was acting under the ordes of his superior 
officers. Here is the verbatim record: 

Lieutenant Buchholtz: "When I enlisted I asked whether the 
Black Reichswehr was connected with the official army. It was 
admitted 'that it was, and I enlisted.' 

Colonel Gudovious at once rose and said: "The statement of 
the accused that the Black Reichswehr was connected with the 
regular army is a danger to the security of the State, and may 
have the worst possible effect upon relations with foreign 
countries/ 

Buchholtz himself further disclosed that high officers of the 
Reichswehr, among them von Bock, had given him and his col- 
leagues instructions how to act in emergency : they were directed 
to march against Poland. Finally Thorn and Rathman were 
sentenced to two years' imprisonment and Lieutenant Buchholtz 
to one month. 

The chief responsibility for all these illegalities rested upon the 
shoulders of von Bock and Major Buchrucker. Von Bock had taken 
special leave, and was anxiously awaiting the result of the trials. 

The next case was against Sergeant-Major Klapproth, for the 
attempted murder of Corporal Ghaedicke. Lieutenant Schultz 
was accused of instigation, Lieutenant Heines of complicity. This 
time Major Buchrucker could not keep out of court, but von 
Bock managed to appear only as a witness for the Reichswehr. 
During the proceedings Buchrucker, in an effort to clear himself, 
asserted that the Minister of the Reichswehr, Herr Gessler, had 
made a statement in the presence of Buchrucker's solicitor in 
which he had said : 

'Major Buchrucker had destroyed the carefully and labori- 
ously built up system of defence in the east of Germany, and had 
caused the Fatherland incalculable damage which could not be 
repaired.' 

This evidence appeared in documentary form. Buchrucker 
managed to drag into the court von Bock who, as 'an expert for 
the army', made the following statement : 

The men (Buchrucker and his Black Reichswehr formation) 
felt that they were soldiers.' 

151 



VON BOCK 

During the hearing it came out in Lieutenant Heines' recorded 
statement about conditions at Fort Tchernow that the fortress 
had been frequency visited by officers of the Inter-Allied Com- 
mission, and that on such occasions all the billets of the Black 
Reichswehr 'had to be cleared of the last straw within twenty 
minutes'. 

In the end Sergeant-Major Klapproth was sentenced to one 
year's imprisonment, while all the officers were acquitted. But 
the cases had to be re-opened in February 1928, when Schultz 
and Klapproth were given 15 years' imprisonment each and 
Major Buchrucker one year. 

Another case was that against the ill-famed Lieutenant Heines 
(later famous for his activities as Police President of Breslau and 
Storm Trooper General after Hitler had taken over) and Lieuten- 
ant Rossbach and five others who were accused of murdering one 
of their comrades, Willie Schmidt, who had tried to warn officers 
of the Inter-Allied Commission of the existence of these forma- 
tions. The question was raised whether the army recognised the 
Rossbach Brigade as part of its organisation. The witnesses for 
the regular Reichswehr, Colonel Kaldrack, Lieut.-Colonel von 
Schleicher (who became head of the Government in 1932 and 
was one of the most influential personalities in the Reichswehr 
Ministry and in the Government) and von Bock stated in evidence 
that the Reichswehr had nothing whatever to do with illegal forma- 
tions. While this evidence was being given one of the accused, 
Baron von Bodungen, had a heated argument with the Reichswehr 
witnesses which severely exposed Kaldrack, von Schleicher and 
von Bock. Here is a passage from the court records : 
BARON VON BODUNGEN i 'Herr Judge, I should like to explain why 
Colonel Kaldrack's memory is so bad. I had a talk with him in 
the corridor last Friday, and he said to me: "Yes, we do con- 
sider the men of the Rossbach Brigade to be soldiers, but I 
cannot say that in court".' 
COLONEL KALDRACK (jumping to his feet, his face red with anger) : 

'Oh! Oh! Oh! Bodungen!' 
BARON VON BODUNGEN : 'Ask Lieutenant Schultz, who was with 

me.' 

THE JUDGE : 'Well, Herr Lieutenant?' 
Lieutenant Schultz stood up calmly and declared that Baron 

152 



VON BOCK 

von Bodungen was right. The Colonel now went purple, and 
shouted hysterically : 

'I have been in the army thirty-four year. Everybody must 
admit that I have always done my duty. 1 have taken an oath. Is 
this done to get me in a corner? No officer fights like this!' 

During this scene von Bock sat with beads of perspiration run- 
ning down his face. He knew that Colonel Kaldrack's military 
career would now come to an end, and if any such accusing ques- 
tions should be put to him his own career would also be cut short. 
Yet von Bock, who as chief of staff to the 3rd Military District 
was the chief instigator of the circumstances leading to the trial, 
escaped without blame. 

In July 1929 a number of these irregular officers were released by 
a sympathetic Mecklenburg Government. Even the Prussian 
Government State in Berlin was positively lenient with them. 
These men had been shown to be the murderers of their own 
comrades, yet they were able to go at once to Berlin, where in the 
same year, in the great Sports-Palace, five thousand Berliners 
welcomed them as 'patriot heroes'. One after another they 
appeared on the stage and were received with applause and 
hurrahs. Public attention at home and abroad had been excited 
by these national and international scandals, but the public 
sentiment of Germany as a whole was with the criminals. How 
otherwise could von Bock have had the audacity to sue in court a 
number of pacifist writers, among them the well-known Karl von 
Ossietsky, who was later tortured to death in a concentration 
camp? In the case against these writers von Bock gave evidence, 
and when asked whether he had taken part, or intended to take 
part, in any of the putsches and rebellions of the year 1923 he 
answered with an expression of evasive arrogance : 'But why? 
The whole thing was completely hopeless.' 

Von Bock thus contrived not only to remain in the regular 
army, but to be promoted to full colonel of the 4th Infantry Regi- 
ment in Kolberg, and in February 1929 he became Major General 
and Commander of the crack First Cavalry Division in Frankfurt- 
an-der-Oder. He was even able to add to his laurels the halo of a 
martyr who had been dragged into court for the patriotism he had 
shown during the early years of the Reichswehr. 

These facts, incredible to those who even now believe it feasible 

153 



VON BOCK 

to separate the German nation and its history from Hitler and the 
Nazis, are incontestable; and they are vital to an understanding 
of post-war Germany. For it is just because these things were not 
believed to be possible by those who were the dominant figures at 
tbe Peace Conference of 1919 and influenced the loose applica- 
tion of the Treaty of Versailles, that a second World War was 
unsuspectedly prepared. 

Many higher Reichswehr officers lost their rank and position 
during these trials. Von Bock's ingenuity alone enabled him to 
survive. The only way in which any court in Germany could get 
hold of the regular army officers in connection with this unsavoury 
business was by calling on them to give authoritative or expert 
evidence. In any other country each one of these officers, von 
Bock perhaps more than any, would have been convicted as 
accessories and dismissed the service. The court proceedings 
prove that von Bock and many others, but von Bock especially, 
thought lightly of the oath of allegiance and loyalty that they 
had sworn on the constitution of the Weimar Republic. In every 
case it was made clear that von Bock, as one of the chief instiga- 
tors of crimes of violence and international fraud, farcically dealt 
with by the law courts of the German Republic, was a confirmed 
perjurer, and had secret support at the back of him. 

In Germany the conventional standards of rectitude and 
justice have always been adaptable to the needs and desires of the 
army caste. The criminal code contained many a clause under 
which von Bock could have been convicted. That none were in- 
voked against him means that men higher than he in the army 
and the State countenanced what he did, if they did not direct it. 
The Weimar Republic was hardly less under the influence of the 
militarists than were its predecessors. 

During that time the man known to the world as Adolf Hitler 
was nothing but a small, unsuccessful politician, who still had to 
reinstate himself after a light prison sentence for high treason, 
but already, as he has said, contemptuously noting his triumph 
over authorities who lacked the courage to hang him. Germany 
was officially governed by Democrats and Social Democrats. 
Unofficially the strings were effectively pulled by the army. 

In 1930 Major Buckrucker wrote a book called In Seeckfs 
Shadow, in which he disclosed that he had a formal pact with 

154 



VON BOCK 

von Bock, Chief of Staff of the 3rd Military District in Berlin. 
Evidence against von Bock was piled high in this book, but the 
law-courts and the public conveniently ignored it. 

We now return to von Bock's military career. Hardened in 
political conflicts, experienced as a General Staff officer, he 
concentrated during subsequent years on his appointment as 
battalion commander and later as regimental chief of the 4th 
Regimental Infantry in Kolberg. The disciplinary standards of 
the regular Reichswehr were high as they were severe. Its man- 
power and material were of the first order, the officers knew their 
job, yet von Bock managed to excel. The 4th Infantry Regiment 
has never forgotten his command. To reach a level of training 
above that of other regiments von Bock, up to and including 1929 
employed methods that can be paralleled only by those elaborated 
later by the Gestapo. He donned civilian clothes and hid in 
forests and fields to inspect, in the disguise of a casual onlooker, 
the training of his company and battalion commanders. 

The requirements of the regulations during manoeuvres were 
not only enforced to the letter but very often exceeded. His troops 
made route marches with their tin hats on, with their arms shoul- 
dered, and with every added exertion that a strict disciplinarian can 
impose. The number of suicides in his regiment mounted. All re- 
ceived a baptism of von Bock's special ' Weltanschauung". Day 
after day, week after week, officers and men were lectured on 
their privilege of belonging to the armed forces of the Republic at 
a time when many more young Germans, eager to volunteer, were 
denied such membership because of the restrictions on armaments. 
It was as though he sought to justify the extraordinary exertions 
demanded from his men. 

The effect upon his subordinates varied. At first the majority 
of the officers laughed at him, then became sullenly if silently 
discontented; but a small minority believed in what he said, 
and strove to imitate him. The faithful ones were nicknamed, 
inside the Reichswehr, 'Bock's own death boys.' The slogan 
was borrowed from a soldiers' song with the refrain : 'No finer 
death than to be slain and shot as a soldier in front of the enemy.' 

The Reichswehr Ministry took note of this strict military 
commander and drew two favourable conclusions. The first was 
that after the stringent lesson of the Feme murder cases von Bock 

155 



VON BOCK 

was a reformed character and would never dabble in internal or 
external politics again ; the second was that he would obey orders 
strictly as he expectfd his own to be obeyed by his subordinates. 
His reward was a transfer from the 4th Infantry, in the command 
of which the former Guardsman had felt himself degraded. In 
Germany such a regiment does not carry any of the traditions of 
wealth and social prestige under which a crack Guards or cavalry 
unit of the old Imperial Army lorded it over all, even other Ger- 
man officers and soldiers. He was given command of the 1st 
Cavalry Division, where again he felt he was in surroundings 
appropriate to his standing. Then in 1931 he took over the 2nd 
Military District in Stettin with the rank of Lieut.-General, a 
position which he held till 1935, and which ultimately gave him 
the rank of Commanding General. 

It was in the capital of Pomerania that von Bock spent those 
tense months which preceded and immediately followed the advent 
of Hitler as head of the State. In this conservative Junker circle, 
remote in feeling from Berlin, the Commanding General could 
count on the willing acceptance of his authority and his views, 
both outside the the army as well as within it. In all this, Berlin, 
though only eighty miles from his headquarters, left him alone. 
He was well aware of the struggle for power going on below the 
surface between the Reichswehr and the Nazi Party. He had no 
part in it; his side was going to be the winning one. If the Nazi 
Party could bring an enlarged army into being, which would mean 
more powerfor himself, they were his men and their Commander- 
in-Chief was his. On the other hand Hitler and the political leaders 
saw von Bock only as a soldier without interest in politics. They 
correctly surmised that the results of his enthusiasm in the late 
twenties had been more than enough to keep him strictly to 
military matters. 

So far von Bock while in command had shown that he 
was a man able to handle civilians satisfactorily in the Prussian 
sense (not equally acceptable farther west) and that he was a 
thoroughly experienced staff officer, His known character as a 
disciplinarian was also all in his favour. But a far more important 
test was now to come. 

He had to prove his ability as organiser of the new German 
Army. Von Fritsch, von Rundstedt, von Leeb and others were 

156 



VON BOCK 

fully engaged already in bringing into effect the plans drawn up 
ten or twelve years before. But von Bock was no wizard; he had 
no gift for such work. He contributed no ide^is; he was at a loss 
when called upon to make suggestions for improvements in the 
plans of rearmament. It is not enough to say, as 'Bock's ov&\ 
deathboys' said, that he had only a small share in planning and 
organising the expansion of the army. He had no part in it at 
all. 

Meantime the antagonism between the National Socialist 
Cabinet and certain high officers of the Reichswehr came to a 
climax. The demands by von Fritsch and others for prerogatives 
kept pace with the increase of the armed forces. Not content with 
their responsibilities and powers over the army, they held that 
in order to bring the striking power of the national forces to its 
highest point, they must be able to intervene in political adminis- 
tration when and where they deemed it necessary. 

Hitler, seeing in these pretensions a threat to his own supremacy 
and that of the Nazi Party, pressed a demand that von Bock be 
given the control of the newly formed Army Group III in Saxony's 
capital of Dresden. To this command the Reichswehr leaders did 
not object. Von Bock had not been conspicuous for his strong 
pro-Nazi inclinations, though he had not shown any partisanship 
for the Reichswehr leaders, but in the minds of these leaders he 
was a professional soldier of recognised qualifications for the 
training of such a group. This appointment would be governed 
by similar considerations to those of the General in control 
of the forces of occupation in Austria, a command which now fell 
to him as head of Army Group III. 

There were, however, political dangers in the assumption by the 
National Socialist Government of the responsibility for the 
selection of the man in command of the first military occupation 
of a country outside Germany. For the first time the army was 
called upon to execute a big job which necessarily included difficult 
political administration. At any time the Reichswehr could create 
an 'incident' that would have allowed them to keep permanently 
in their hands the power vested in them for this occasion. It was 
under such a menace to his supremacy that Hitler had broken von 
Fritsch and the most dangerous of his entourage, and he could 
strike as hard again. But there was a limit to ruthlessness in deal- 

157 



VON BOCK 

ing with army chiefs, and he knew how to play 'possum' while 
allowing one scandal to be forgotten. 

Added to this, lihe change-over in Austria would have been 
carried out more smoothly on the military side by a man with the 
prestige of the old Prussian military caste. 

Von Bock's contempt for everything Austrian was well known. 
His three or four Austrian war decorations were 'that scrap iron'. 
It was anticipated that officers of the Austrian Army would be 
overawed by his haughty bearing and domineering manner. But 
here he played his role too well, and it immediately seemed that 
he was going to embark on internal politics again. 

Herman Goring had entered Austria as German Air Minister, 
and on arriving had established himself with the pomp and dis- 
play he considered appropriate. As a member of the Reich 
Government he was in a position to invite von Bock to parades, 
but his invitations were declined without even a pretence of 
politeness. In physique the opposite of Goring, von Bock's 
purposeful asceticism constituted a silent reproof to Goring's 
Falstaffian appearance and habits. When the two men were com- 
pelled to be together at official meetings there was no harmonious 
collaboration between them. Von Bock's manners were not im- 
proved by his desire to impress his new Austrian subordinates with 
a German General's precedence over any civilian, even though 
like Goring the civilian was Minister for Air and once a lieuten- 
ant in the Air Force. 

So it came about that the working of the military Gleichschal- 
tung (which may be translated as co-ordination with as much 
force as is necessary) was left to Colonel Rommel, and von Bock 
returned to Dresden to take charge of the forces that occupied 
the second zone (north) of Czechoslovakia. He was accompanied 
on his entry into the Sudetenland by his then nine-year-old son, 
wearing a sailor suit with beret. He wished to impress the little 
boy, as he told foreign pressmen, with 'the beauty and exhilara- 
tion of soldiering'. Outside soldiering, von Bock, like so many 
Prussian officers, had a closed mind. His experiences, though he 
had not been without foreign contacts as during the juggling with 
rearmament during the formal Treaty period of disarmament, had 
not taught him the psychological flexibility needed in diplomacy. 
He issued a proclamation which he read out from the balcony of 

158 



VON BOCK 

the Town Hall in Friedland as follows : 

'Sudeten Germans Racial Comrades, the hour of deliverance 
has come. German troops are on the point $>f taking your land 
under the protection and sovereignty of the Reich . . . Let everyone 
go to his work. Let each in his place co-operate as soon as possi- 
ble in production/ 

Learning nothing from the feverish activities of von Ribbentrop 
and scores of other Nazi officials, including Hitler, in disguising 
their criminal schemes, von Bock discarded the mask and exposed 
Germany's object: the acquisition by fraud and force, by blood- 
shed if necessary, of the Czech armament industry and other 
sources of production. The Sudeten Germans were just the worm 
on the hook. 

The subsequent purges that affected almost every larger forma- 
tion of the Reichswehr did not affect von Bock. On the contrary, 
he went a step higher, being put in charge of the most important 
Army Group inside the German Army: Group No. I at Berlin. 
The reasons for this change were basically the same as those which 
made the German Cabinet appoint him Group Commander, 
Group TIL For the Nazi Party he was a tamed Prussian of the old 
military order. Party confidence in him had even been strength- 
ened by his non-committal attitude during the fateful days early 
in 1938 when von Fritsch thought that the scales of political 
fortune might be tipped in favour of the Reichswehr. Many of 
the other group commanders were changed, as was the Chief 
of the General Staff. Von Bock's advancement was accepted in 
the army as a sign that he had taken over the role of an 'internal 
Quisling'. However, people who knew the private circumstances 
which led to this appointment and to his survival in the armed 
forces would ascribe it more positively to General Wilhelm 
Keitel. If von Bock passively accepted Party domination, Keitel 
actively supported it. Von Bock's attitude was correct, and 
acceptable to the Government. He paid enough lip service to the 
Party in his addresses to troops to avoid being considered luke- 
warm. 

At the beginning of the campaign against Poland he led the 
army group from the north, invading the country from East 
Prussia. The operations in Poland illustrate von Bock's limita- 
tions. Had he not, in co-operation with the Commander-in- 

159 



VON BOCK 

Chief, von Brauchitsch, called in von Rundstedt and von Leeb, 
the determined Polish resistance would have been more difficult 
to break. The swift and complete German victory was due to 
von Rundstedt's circumspect plans and their execution, and not 
to the mediocre handling of the Northern Army Group by von 
Bock. 

In the campaign in the west von Bock was the Commander-in- 
Chief of the Army Group B, and directed the thrust against the 
Lower Somme. During all the Polish and French campaigns 
his work was not outstanding. He held a high command, and the 
progress of the forces under his leadership was made possible 
to a large extent by the extraordinary feats of his colleagues. 
He was nothing but a number among many abler men. In the 
Russian campaign he was more severely tested and his deficiencies 
were exposed. He commanded the central body of the corps and 
groups that struck the first blows. In the north and south his more 
gifted colleagues had to synchronise their operations with the 
movements which von Bock made. 

It may surprise a military observer, after learning of von Bock's 
strange career, that he was entrusted with a task upon which the 
fate of the entire campaign depended. He had spectacular suc- 
cesses that missed the strategic goal of the entire German plan. 
After heavy frontier battles on each side of the Polish Pripet 
Marshes, and after the subsequent advance of both wing groups 
in the north and in the south, von Bock advanced again and 
again until he arrived in front of Moscow. It is now established 
that the German High Command never intended to fight any 
violent battle in front of Moscow, but relied on the ability of the 
man in command of the central groups to bring about decisive 
battles of annihilation against the Red armies that would finish 
the war even before Smolensk was captured. Whether through the 
ability of the Russian leaders or the. limitations of von Bock, 
the German plan broke down. He conquered territory but not 
the Russian armies. 

Perhaps the German Commander-in-Chief of that time, von 
Brauchitsch, and the Chief of the German General Staff, Haider, 
thought that their presence immediately behind the headquarters 
of the leader of the Central Army Groups would ensure success. 
Already, perhaps, the hand of the civilian Hitler had "made itself 

160 



VON BOCK 

felt by his fear of entrusting this crucial task to a more capable 
man, von Rundstedt for example, whose success might give the 
victor in the field too much glory and publicity. The fact remains 
that von Bock alone led the German Armies, and that his early 
operations in 1941 led up to a situation that had never beea 
foreseen by the planners in the German Reichswehr Minis- 
try, and against which the exponents of German military thought 
had uttered warnings since the days of Clausewitz. 

Confronted with the alternative of retiring into winter posi- 
tions or making a bold all-out effort, the German High Command, 
led by von Brauchitsch and Haider, and supported by a repre- 
sentative group of senior officers, advised the prudent course. 
The Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler, insisted on attack. Von 
Bock remained in charge of the central group, and set about 
putting into practice the form of strategy that will be known in 
history as the period when 'intuition' was dominant in war. 

Hitler had picked a man who needed the direction of a master 
of strategy. The ideal directing brain would have been Baron 
Werner von Fritsch, who had been dead for two years, murdered 
near Warsaw; the best substitute would have been Gerd von 
Rundstedt, who was now temporarily relieved of his command 
in the south ; failing these, the combination of the men who had 
been largely responsible for the direction against Poland, France, 
the Balkans and Russia, von Brauchitsch and Haider, would have 
been the next best substitute. These last were the best that could 
be achieved at that time, when the National Socialist Govern- 
ment still had to keep watch on the internal political situation. 
The Hitler-von Bock combination was about the worst for Ger- 
many that could be formed, and its existence contributed sub- 
stantially to the shortening of the war and the certainty of Allied 
victory. 

During the Battle of Moscow von Bock's mediocrity encoun- 
tered the brilliancy of the Soviet Marshal Zhukov, who, when 
surrounded by von Bock's assault forces in a semi-circle from 
north to south of Moscow, and faced with strong pressure in the 
centre of this arc, knew how to exploit the 'inner line' formed by 
Moscow's system of communications. When the battle ended in 
ignominious defeat for the Germans, and the beginning of a 
Napoleonic retreat through Russia in the winter of 1941-2, 

161 L 



VON BOCK 

Gerd von Rundstedt, recalled at the last moment, stopped the 
rout. With the assistance of List he directed a disengaging action 
which, though it cost the German forces enormous casualties, did 
restore the situation. Von Bock went on sick leave with 'stomach 
trouble', developed very opportunely. He was inured to hardship 
and had been known throughout his career for his iron con- 
stitution. 

The German attempt to regain the initiative on a large scale, 
and to seek a decision in the east before the increasing might of 
the western democracies could come into play, resulted in the 
German plan for the Battle of Stalingrad. Though an Allied in- 
vasion from the west was not likely at that time, Hitler sent his 
best man to the west to guard against it, for there were unknown 
potentialities in the hostile populations of the occupied countries. 
Von Rundstedt took over the combined German forces in Hol- 
land, Belgium and France. Then von Bock appeared again in the 
limelight of eastern operations, greatly to the surprise of everyone 
who had followed his career and understood his military calibre. 

We are still in the period of the intuition that started the last 
German assault on Moscow and was now running wild during 
this 1942 offensive. With Field Marshal von Brauchitsch retired, 
Field Marshal von Leeb replaced, Field Marshal von Rundstedt 
engaged in the distant theatre of western Europe, von Bock alone 
remained to advise the Fiihrer, who as Commander-in-Chief 
held all the strings in his hands. Only a man of the limited strateg- 
ical conceptions of von Bock could have advised any Commander- 
in-Chief to split the German assault force while operations were 
half-way through in order to attack the Caucasus and the Battle 
of Stalingrad was still raging. This dispersion of power flouted 
the established and tested rules of strategy. But if the campaign re- 
vealed the untrained directive of a lance-corporal, it also revealed 
in its execution a man who did not know the value of human life. 
The blood bath through which the German armed forces went 
was of von Bock's making, and it is not too much to conclude 
that his sense of responsibility was replaced by fanatical satis- 
faction in assisting his men to 'crown a soldier's life by a glorious 
death in the field'. 

It is important to distinguish between von Bock and the so- 
called 'intuition advocates', the generals on the immediate and 

162 



VON BOCK 

personal staff of Hitler. Von Bock was far more the professional 
soldier than Generals Jodl, Warlimont and their kind. There is 
no doubt that in normal times von Bock w<juld have made his 
name as a subordinate general. Given responsibility beyond his 
capacity, and even worse, called upon to advise a civilian with 
supreme political and military power, who overnight thought 
he had Become a strategist, von Bock's leadership was disastrous 
for the armies under his command. 



163 



Admiral Karl Doenit* 

'/ will show that the U-boat alone can win 
this war. Nothing is impossible for us' 

DOENITZ 

Karl Doenitz comes from Mecklenburg, whose inhabitants 
are as stolid and phlegmatic as the Pomeranians. The 
admiral has none of the native characteristics of his 
countrymen and he is eager to have it known that his antecedents 
were 'shipowners and landowners' and not 'fishermen and 
farmers', which they in fact were. Class conscious though he is, 
he makes no pretence of ranking with the Prussian aristocracy: 
rather does he despise it because it regards the German Navy 
as the junior service. He is, in fact, much more interested in the 
racial nobility of the Nordic type than in man-made titles. 

Born in 1892, Doenitz entered the Imperial German Navy as 
an ensign in 1913, and in due course reported to the captain of the 
light cruiser Breslau then attached to the German Mediter- 
ranean Squadron. His brother officers watched him carefully and 
finally decided that he was a bad sailor and a worse officer, and 
their slighting and sarcastic remarks, such as 'Doenitz the Prus- 
sian landlubber', soon touched him on the raw. 

In 1914 the Breslau made her dash to Constantinople with 
the Goeben, and then began a long period of inactivity for 
Doenitz and his colleagues. He has circulated the story that as a 
young officer, ambitious and longing to see the enemy, he could 
not rest content with loafing on the beautiful Pera beach. Truth 
to tell, of course, he could no longer stand the teasing from his 
brother officers, and after 1916 he almost became a mental case. 
On the few occasions when the German-Turkish Squadron had 
gone into action he had shown that his nerves were not as steady as 
the German naval officer's code of honour demanded. Not that 
he ran away from his post, or asked to be relieved ; but his ashen 
face at the moment 'action stations' were sounded did not escape 
notice. The 'Prussian landlubber' became fellow Doenitz!' 

Pride came to the rescue, and in order to put an end to such 
gibes he applied for a transfer to the U-boat branch of the 

164 



DOENITZ 

Imperial Navy. This was willingly granted because the British 
Navy was playing havoc with the U-boats in 1916, replacements 
for U-boat commanders were needed daily, nd (in contrast to 
Doenitz's present regulations) the U-boat service was then on 
a voluntary basis. 

Promotion was granted immediately, though to Doenitz's dis- 
appointment his second gold stripe did not come till he had left 
Constantinople, so that he was unable to parade it in front of his 
hecklers. An uneventful career began for him as commander of 
the small U-boat 'C/-25'. He was cautious, and despite a number 
of sorties was hardly ever attacked. His claims to sinkings were 
therefore small. The technical side of U-boat warfare interested 
him most, machinery and hull construction being his special 
interests. He sent a number of memoranda to the Admiralty, 
who thus became aware of the little First Lieutenant, and 
reward followed when he was given command of the larger 
'underwater cruiser' UB-6%. Long cruises followed, and towards 
the end of the war he was back again in the Mediterranean. 

A few weeks before the Armistice Doenitz attacked a British 
convoy off Malta, and was immediately engaged by a sloop and 
an armed trawler. Slowly the C/#-68 came to the surface, un- 
damaged. Doenitz ordered 'Abandon ship' without trying to use 
his gun which was of considerable calibre. If any such incident 
were to be reported to-day to the present Grand Admiral Karl 
Doenitz, a court-martial would follow for the officer responsible, 
with the severest of sentences perhaps even To be shot at dawn 
for cowardice in face of the enemy'. 

Having scuttled his boat, Doenitz was fished out of the water 
and brought to a prison camp in Lancashire, where he learned 
that Germany had sued for an armistice and that a republic was 
being formed. He also knew that appointments in a new German 
Republican Navy would be scarce, especially for one who might 
come up against former brother-officers from the old Breslau. 
Meanwhile he fretted in his prison camp, and the best jobs at 
home were being snatched in his absence. He resolved to get out of 
the camp before anybody else, because if he left with all the others 
his chances of employment in Germany would be almost hope- 
less. But without wounds or illness what could he do? British 
prison-camp administration observed the rules of the Geneva 

165 



DOENITZ 

Convention and looked after the officers so conscientiously that 
they were kept free from disease. There was only one way to 
pretend to be mad. ^\nd that Doenitz did with peculiar success. 
His neurotic temperament gave him perverse inspiration, and he 
thought out and performed ridiculous acts of the type expected 
from a demented patient. He was sent to Germany among the 
early releases. 

Years later, naval officers who had been with him in that prison 
camp were dumbfounded when they heard that he was climbing 
higher and higher. They themselves had been convinced that 
Doenitz was a lunatic, and so surprised was a German naval 
doctor who had treated him during his period of supposed aber- 
ration that he refused to believe he had been deluded by a men- 
tally sound impostor. Confronted by Doenitz 'returned to 
normal', he expressed his congratulations, but as soon as he had 
left his presence he turned to a friend and said : 'It's all very well. 
But you can say what you like, that man's cowardice and egotism 
border on lunacy.' 

Republican Germany did not have a submarine fleet. And 
much as certain naval circles would have liked to construct 
secret experimental craft and keep up with the rapid development 
in that instrument of naval warfare, the German Admiralty did 
not dare to break the clause of the Treaty of Versailles that 
forbade its construction. Doenitz was not disturbed by the re- 
striction. At the writing desk and on the drawing board he devel- 
oped new ideas in safety. Near Kiel a 'school for anti-submarine 
warfare' was founded. This really was a school for submarine 
training of officers and men, but without ships the theoretical 
knowledge of the crews could not be put to practical test. 
The school was the utmost concession that the discreet Admiral 
Zenker would make to his enthusiastic young officers. 

But desk work alone wins little promotion in the fighting 
services. Doenitz could not hope for higher rank not to mention 
flag rank if there were no submarines. Before he could secure 
command of a submarine fleet and issue his orders from a cosy 
office in Berlin or some Baltic seaport, there must be a govern- 
ment in Berlin that would give him that fleet in defiance of the 
Treaty Powers. Such a government was possible only under a 
Hitler. And Doenitz came to these conclusions because of recent 

166 



DOENITZ 

history. He knew that Goring envisaged a big air fleet as soon as 
Hitler (who was already his Fiihrer, if not yet the nation's) could 
take over the Cabinet. Doenitz also knew^of Erhard Milch's 
ambitious preparations towards that end. Was it not conceivable 
that he could hitch his wagon to the rising star in a similai- 
scheme? Had not the all-knowing, all-promising Hitler already 
announced that 'if only the last war had lasted another two years 
the U-boats alone would have forced England to her knees'? 
Doenitz was gradually attaining to rank superior to that of the 
average operational submarine commander ; it was high time that 
U-boats were afloat again. He was tired of the cautious attitude 
of Admiral Raeder, sick of hearing that the Republican Govern- 
ment had trouble enough to fulfil the demands of the Reichswehr 
without listening to those of the crazy submarine people. These 
explanations had been like music in his ears while there was still 
a chance that he would have to take over command of one of 
those unpleasant ships. But now his outlook had changed. 

Doenitz's sponsor for his entry into the Nazi Party was the 
enterprising Herman Goring. They became close friends. 
Goring's bulk did not present a heroic spectacle aboard ship 
(he is violently seasick in the slightest swell), but as a Nazi he was 
worth cultivating, and Goring was quick to see that Doenitz 
was already nursing a grudge founded on jealousy that 
made him unbearable to subordinates and superiors alike. As a 
junior officer he had been glad to save his own skin; as a com- 
mander he welcomed the fate that put him into a drawing-office; 
and now when he could see himself becoming a flag officer he 
wanted all or nothing, though he was still only a commander. 
But the so-called revolution moved quickly in those days, though 
it always avoided public recognition of its far-reaching aims. One 
year more, and in 1933 Commander Doenitz received official 
sanction to carry out his tests in the open, and to search German 
industry for factories that could produce the first submarines. 

The Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Raeder, was 
unaware that the submarine specialist was secretly starting a 
campaign against him. Only one who had himself arrived at his 
position by intrigue could have suspected that a simple com- 
mander was talking to flag officers and insinuating that Raeder 
ought to be pensioned off because he laid too much emphasis on 

167 



DOENTIZ 

the construction of surface vessels. Soon, with the gradual ex- 
pansion of the German Navy and the mushroom development of 
the submarine braijch, the question that arose was whether the 
officer who had done research work for years on end should re- 
igain head of the branch and gradually attain highest rank, or 
whether a tried and experienced admiral even though not a 
submarine specialist should take over and apply to the branch 
his wider knowledge and larger experience of responsibility. 
There was no doubt, as Doenitz knew, that general custom and 
tradition were on the side of Raeder, but the climber was pulling 
Party strings long before Raeder knew that Nazi coils were gather- 
ing round the hitherto sacred army and navy. So whenever he 
suggested to Hitler the name of a head for the submarine branch 
of the German Navy, the Fiihrer evasively suggested that the 
pleasant and smiling Captain Doenitz (as he had now become) 
should carry on. The Ftihrer had been happy to see how well that 
important branch was coming along. And Raeder, avoiding a 
tiresome dispute, acquiesced. 

February of 1 936 was a great month for Doenitz. He success- 
fully pressed a demand that the Fiihrer der Unterseeboote should 
be directly responsible to the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy 
to no one else. This meant unlimited power for him over his 
branch. He ordered promotion, he demanded moneys, he asked 
for shore expansion for his bases and he reported directly to the 
Commander-in-Chief, and no one else would know what he was 
doing unless he so wished it. A Commander-in-Chief in the full 
sense of the term could not tolerate such pretensions, but Raeder 
still acquiesced. He had seen danger, and sensed the intrigue 
against him, and the only satisfaction he could get was limiting 
Doenitz's appointment to the command of the First Submarine 
Flotilla (Weddigen Flotilla), which began as an experimental 
force. 

During the Spanish Civil War Doenitz ordered manoeuvres 
designed to show what the modern submarine could do 
against a protected convoy of merchantmen. The result was 
disappointing. The submarines reported failure. Doenitz, who up 
to then had been chiefly responsible for technical develop- 
ment, had now to take up tactics and their evolution. The fore- 
runners of the 'wolf pack attacks' were tried out, and still there 

168 



DOENITZ 

was no marked success. Doenitz went farther. In his new investi- 
gations it came to light that the naval charts at his disposal were 
not very suitable for submarines, amd, whetfcr intentionally (as 
was not unlikely for obvious reasons) or not, the special charts of 
the British naval base of Portland were even less so. Much against 
his inclination he had to board one of his own submarines, the 
(7-37, and take to sea. Off Portland the German submarine 
started investigations within territorial waters. It was peace- 
time, but the British Navy was not asleep. The destroyer Wolf- 
hound observed something, and to scare the foreign ship to the 
surface dropped practice depth charges which made such a terrify- 
ing noise that Doenitz ordered his commander to surface. The 
commander made suitable apologies, and the incident was closed 
as far as the British were concerned. For Doenitz, however, it 
had a bad effect. When the Wolfhound practice depth charges 
went off he was seized with the idea that Hitler had made a sur- 
prise blitzkrieg without notifying him, or that at least Raeder 
had seen through his game and had sent him off in order to get 
rid of his first and most dangerous rival. Doenitz's lack of nerve 
was again shown up, this time in front of most of his crew, and 
the tale spread through the German Navy with the mysterious 
speed, as such tales do, of an African jungle signal. 

Out of danger, and with his feet on solid ground, he regained 
his courage. Count Felix Luckner, captain of the Seeadler, the 
sailing raider of the last war, boasted in public that he had sunk 
many a ship but never killed a sailor, and that he was proud of 
such a record. Doenitz answered also in public that he (as a 
good German) was unable to understand such chivalry of the sea. 
To men like Adolf Hitler these were 'splendid words' (as Count 
Zeppelin said to the German people who sped him on his pioneer 
way to raid Great Britain); and Hitler knew nothing of the 
behaviour of the ruthless Doenitz when he was sweating with 
fear off Portland. 

Doenitz's close connection with the master of the Luftwaffe 
made it easy for him to get collaboration in peace-time for per- 
fecting the employment of planes as spotters for submarine 
flotillas. In the matter of production he was influenced by his 
Luftwaffe friends in quite a different way. He knew his Goring, 
and the mental limitations which made that fire-eater rather too 

169 



DOENITZ 

subjective in his calculations. Courage may have an element of 
obtuseness. Fear should not master a man, but it is the beginning 
of intelligence, andtDoenitz, who at home could keep his head, 
saw the potential strength behind Allied unpreparedness. He did 
not draw the superficial conclusion that the Luftwaffe would 
always be able to keep enemy aircraft out of the German sky. 
Consequently he relied on the products of the Baltic ancl North 
Sea shipyards as little as possible. Submarines, whether small or 
large, were made sectionally all over Germany. The process of 
final launching needed comparatively little time. Doenitz ex- 
pected that these ports would be bombarded in due course, and 
in this, as is known, he was not a bad prophet. 

As for man-power, he arranged with the other chiefs of the 
armed forces that a pool should be formed of 100,000 of the 
fittest of Germany's youth, calculating that this number provided 
an ample reserve for his future needs in war. He could not 
foresee that in the years of war his former friend Goring would 
be short of men and would 'borrow' heavily from the pool. 
Doenitz also adopted a new scheme for the navy. He ordered 
that there should be no one between him and the commandants ; 
that each commandant should adopt a kameradschaftliche 
Haltung (a comradely behaviour) towards his crew; and that 
class distinction between officers and men should be unequivocally 
eliminated. He had his own experience of the dangers in the 
restricted quarters of a German U-boat that may arise in a mo- 
ment of crisis, should the crew have cause to resent the bearing 
of the officers towards them. 

When the present war broke out Doenitz's influence increased, 
but not to the extent he had expected. Raeder's was still power- 
ful, the more so after the successful conclusion of the Norwegian 
campaign. Doenitz had to bide his time. Finally he began to ask 
what was the use of a German fleet bottled up in Norwegian 
fjords? What was the use of one single surface craft in the strategy 
of the German High Command? The fleet had to watch events 
in the North Sea, to seek an opportunity when nothing stronger 
than a British trawler was on patrol there. Then the German 
Panzerschiffe and the pocket battleships would have a chance of 
a hit-and-run action with little to show for it and perhaps days at 
sea wasted. How many more submarines could he build with 

170 



DOENITZ 

all those men and material. The Graf Spec and the Bismarck 
spoke volumes. Could Admiral Raeder produce alternative 
plans? Of course not. The departure of the Scharnhorst, the 
Gneisenau and the Lutzow from the French Channel ports 
was a remarkable feat of escape. Not a naval battle, but the 
successful escape of a frightened navy. Was this sort of thing to 
continue? 

A disappointed Fiihrer gladly listened to a man who promised 
him success in a sphere which up to 1943 had not brought much 
glory to the Reich. Admiral Raeder had to go, and at the begin- 
ning of 1943 the much younger Doenitz took over. His appoint- 
ment was a smack in the face for scores of other admirals who, as 
a remedy for an embarrassing personal situation, were immediately 
dismissed the service. Doenitz felt the danger that might gather 
round him from silent resentment. Methods that were strange 
even in Nazi Germany's armed forces were officially introduced, 
and the higher flag officers experienced them first. Admiral Boehm, 
German Naval Chief in Norway, was retired immediately and 
without explanation, to be replaced by Admiral Ciliax, who had 
commanded the Scharnhorst, the Gneisenau and the Ltitzow 
in their escape from the Channel. Boehm had more than 
once spoken openly against the German treatment of Nor- 
wegians. The Gestapo knew that, of course, and it was part of 
their job to show Doenitz that they knew it. He relied for his 
future more on the support of his old friend Himmler than on 
naval associates. Ciliax was the man for Doenitz, as he was for 
the Gestapo, a man who in every other country (except Japan) 
would have been dealt with by the law for his personal conduct. 
It was essentially as an emissary of the watchful Gestapo that 
Admiral Fricke went to Italy to represent the interests of the 
German High Command in the Italian Navy. Probably his pres- 
ence reinforced the decision that Italian officers had to take when 
Marshal Badoglio ordered them to join the Allied Navies in the 
Mediterranean. Doenitz was gathering the right people round him. 

As soon as he became Naval Commander-in-Chief he started 
a propaganda campaign of his own. Addressing submarine crews 
the head of the German Navy emulated Goebbels himself in 
volubility and gesture. This exhibition was only the outward sign 
of a development that had been growing within the Navy for a 

171 



DOENTIZ 

long time. Earlier in its existence the German Navy at first the 
Imperial German Navy was eager to copy the customs and the 
dignity of the British Navy, the ^Silent Service'. A German 
Imperial Naval officer who had stood on the quarter deck and 
addressed his ship's company with the gestures of a town crier 
would have been retired next day. Officers who, for ^xample, 
behaved like the former Lieutenant Reinhardt Heydrich of the 
Republican Navy, were dismissed the Service. Inwardly the 
British standards of reticence and correct behaviour were laughed 
at, like the British observance of internationally acknowledged 
customs of naval courtesy, but the external form was followed. 
With Doenitz all that went by the board. The German naval 
officer who gloats as his victims swim in burning oil, who even 
rams the lifeboats of a torpedoed tanker with his U-boat, now 
represents the heroic ideal. 

The cruelties of the German Army in Russia and the occupied 
countries are accurately recorded because there the Germans deal 
with civilians and sooner or later the facts are published. But 
enough evidence has emerged from reports of escaped Allied 
seamen to show that there is no more chivalry under the Nazis 
at sea than on land. Under Doenitz there is little difference 
between the German field gendarmes of Bryansk and Kharkov 
and the U-boat commanders in the North Atlantic. 

Doenitz will leave his mark the mark of Hitler. 



172 



Admiral Erich Raeder 

The concessions of the weak are the concessions of fear. 

EDMUND BURKE, ON CONCILIATIONS WITH AMERICA. MARCH 22ND, 1775. 

With his mild blue eyes and kindly open face Erich 
Raeder has none of the appearances of the typical 
admiral ; his manner and bearing are rather those of 
a public schoolmaster, actually his father's profession. His hair, 
parted in the middle, is closely cropped at the sides in the style 
of a German schoolmaster. Out of uniform he might pass for 
a scientist, a surgeon or even a clergyman. He has cultivated 
a striking resemblance to several naval chaplains once under his 
command. 

His sensitive nature and the kindness that is born and bred in 
him are more characteristic of the northern provinces of his 
origin than of other parts of Germany, and in temperament there 
could be no greater contrast than that between Raeder and the 
typical Prussian Junker army general. In public he tries to look 
grim and determined to suit his office; but regimentation and 
discipline, measured by Prussian standards, have never been 
congenial to him, perhaps because he looks for individuality in 
other men and respects it. A lack of will power is apparent in his 
face, and borne out in his career. 

From his early days he identified himself with the sailor's 
code of chivalry ; but in his book he violated truth and chivalry 
together by crediting that glory to the German Navy and denying 
it to the British, and for years before his retirement he was urging 
ruthless U-boat warfare. Even in the face of scrupulous British 
adherence to international law as when the submarine Salmon 
ignored the huge target of the Bremen in October 1939 he has 
scorned all rules when it happened to suit him, and has associated 
himself fully with Nazi practices. 

He had his early standards of honour but he gradually deserted 
them, reluctantly perhaps, but completely and finally. Unable 
fully to acquiesce, and without the will to resist, he compromised 
and compounded with the devil. 

His fellow Germans have always been cynical about him, seeing 
a weak man beset by impatience, whose distress when faced by 

173 



RAEDER 

the forces of ruthlessness and brutality at work was such that he 
would almost go to the same vicious lengths to rid himself of it. 

Erich Raeder was born on 24th April 1876 at the small seaside 
i^sort of Wandsbeck near Hamburg, a son of Dr. Raeder, 
director and headmaster of a public school. In the spring of 1894 
his father was transferred to the little town of Griinberg in Silesia, 
where the boy, who had the benefit of special teaching by 
his father during his schooldays, passed his matriculation with 
honours. Though he could have waited at least six months before 
taking any steps about his future career, he applied at once to 
join the Imperial German Navy. After three years of strict train- 
ing as a cadet and midshipman he became a sub-lieutenant in 
1897. 

Families like Raeder's had a special interest in the acute politi- 
cal controversies that arose with the founding of the German 
Imperial Navy. The Reichs Government had to reconcile the 
Kaiser's strict orders on the formation of the Navy with conflict- 
ing external and internal political problems. Government and 
military authorities themselves were not to be convinced that a 
powerful navy was in Germany's interest ; and Prussian interests, 
it was thought, were certainly endangered by it. The arch- 
conservative Junker circles of Prussia argued that no state, 
however powerful, could concentrate on two branches of the 
armed forces at one time, that the Reichstag, if called on for 
heavy naval expenditure would restrict outlay on the army. They 
foresaw, too, that a big naval programme would make a clash 
with Britain inevitable. Their ideal international policy would 
have allowed Prussian Germany to be Britain's sword on the 
Continent, while the British Navy kept open Germany's rear 
communication with the remainder of the world. 

Opposing this school of thought was a section of the middle 
class, largely recruited from such families as Raeder's, who 
thought that the geographical position of the German Reich, 
the most important land power in Central Europe, entitled it to 
free trade overseas and a proper share in colonies. It was intoler- 
able to them that German communications with German colonies 
or other overseas nations should be under the constant threat, 
as they saw it, of Britain and her navy. So they said : 'Let us 

174 



RAEDER 

build as much as we can as fast as we can, and let us have a 
frisch-frohlichen (short and merry) naval war to show England 
where her limits lie.' The extreme imperialism of this section 
divided it sharply from the pan-germanism inspired by the 
Junkers class, which at that time had no interest in the conquest 
of British colonies and the possessions of other nations overseas. 

The Imperial German Navy therefore built up its naval officers 
corps with a different background from that of the Army. The 
average German naval officer of that time had discipline equal 
to that of an officer of the Royal Prussian Footguards, with less 
pretentiousness in a social sense, but was extravagant and very 
sensitive on the subject of German colonial expansion and 
German sovereignty of the seas. A professor of history speaking 
in 1931 illustrated the feeling in the young Imperial German 
Navy with the following simile : 

'The German Imperial Navy, and in particular its officers, 
were like people who, though they generally behave quite reason- 
ably and well, go mad at the sight of a green umbrella or a yellow 
bathing costume. To the naval officers of those days yellow and 
green were represented by such words as "the British Navy'* 
(and the professor did not use the German translation Britische 
Flotte but the English term instead), 'British Empire' (again the 
English word was used), and Seegeltung (seapower). These 
words had a strangely confusing effect on an otherwise intelligent 
corps of young men.' 

This then was the spiritual atmosphere in which a young 
German Imperial naval officer was brought up. 

The year 1903 saw Raeder at the Naval Academy, which he 
left after two years. In 1906 he was transferred to the information 
department of the navy, Department A (foreign countries) deal- 
ing with the foreign press and the naval publications 'Naval 
Review' (Marine Rundschau) and 'Nauticus'. The Chief of 
Personnel of the Imperial, German Navy who made the appoint- 
ment must have been a good psychologist, for though Raeder 
had fully imbibed the ideas of his circle he was aware that in 
other countries, especially in Britain and British overseas posses- 
sions, those ideas would arouse suspicion and uneasiness. Clear- 
headed and responsive to another point of view, he was exactly 
the man to deal with foreign press questions and to present an 

175 



RAEDER 

acceptable front to the many anxious inquirers from other 
countries who had to be received by the Commander-in-Chief 
of the Imperial Geijnan Navy. 

Raeder did well. He had an able pen, and his bearing in dis- 
Qission was composed, if neither eloquent nor demonstrative. In 
association with foreigners and various types of strangers it was 
in his favour that he had never learned the habit of heel-clicking, 
or the stiff and elaborate bowing of the Prussian cavalry officer. 
Advancement followed quickly. His Imperial Majesty William II 
himself picked the crew for his yacht Hohenzollern, and 
Commander Raeder was suddenly honoured by being appointed 
its navigation officer. 

The Kaiser was an odd being. In Potsdam and at the court of 
Berlin he fancied himself as the sabre-rattling omnipotent Prus- 
sian War Lord and chief of all Junkers. As soon as he put on the 
gold-braided blue of the German Grand Admiral he tried to 
exhibit a more liberal' character. In his own words, 'I have never 
felt more English than when I wear my naval uniform'. And this 
innocent remark, ideal for Punch, put his aspirations in a nutshell. 

Commander Raeder of the Foreign Press Department had 
attracted the attention of the All-Highest because of the moderate 
views he put before the foreign press. This moderation had a 
disarming purpose, but the Kaiser thought it was genuine, and 
that Raeder would make an ideal theatre prop for the setting of 
the yacht Hohenzollern. 

From 1913 to January 1918 Raeder was the First Admiralty 
Staff Officer and Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief of 
the reconnaissance forces of the German Grand Fleet. In this 
capacity he took part in the bombardment of the English coast 
on 2nd November 1914, the bombardment of Hartlepool on 
16th December 1914, the Battle of the Dogger Bank on 24th 
April 1915 and the Battle of Jutland on 21st May 1916. His imme- 
diate superior was Admiral Hipper, and he followed that Admiral 
during the Battle of Jutland from the battle cruiser Seidlitz 
to the LUtzow, and later on to the Hindenburg. Later he was 
obliged officially to fall into line with the general propaganda 
which claimed the Battle of Jutland or the Battle of the Skag- 
gerak as the Germans call it to be a gigantic German victory. 
Privately Raeder has agreed that Jutland, though during certain 

176 



RAEDER 

phases it might be considered a tactical German success, was a 
resounding strategic defeat for the Imperial Navy. It is character- 
istic of Raeder that on such an important question he held both 
an official and a private view. 

In January 1918 he was made commandant of the cruisej* 
Koln //, but was relieved of that command in October of the 
same year. Though the navy of the Republic was then cut down 
from a war strength of several hundred thousand to fifteen 
thousand, Raeder was not only retained in service but made head 
of the central department of the German Admiralty. That posi- 
tion he held from December 1918 to March 1920. The principle 
under which he worked was 'Save what you can from the sinking 
ship', and, in violation of the relevant paragraph of the Treaty of 
Versailles, much valuable material was retained and stored away. 

From 1920 to July 1922 he was head of the naval archives, 
and began to study the development of tactical and strategic 
naval questions during the last war as they affected Germany. 
Raeder himself has admitted that this study confirmed him in the 
belief that the German strategy of maintaining a replica of the 
British Grand Fleet was too expensive and out-moded. He saw the 
future of Germany's sea-power in cruiser warfare and in sub- 
marines. It was, of course, impossible for him to contemplate 
anything more, because, though the army and navy might 
circumvent the Treaty of Versailles, the presence of unauthorised 
battleships or battle cruisers, had they existed, could not be 
explained away. What could be done in defiance of the Treaty was 
to retain all plans and documents concerning submarine warfare 
during the last war. The Treaty strictly prohibited this : under her 
own pledge Germany was neither to have submarine training sta- 
tions nor were her naval officers to have the apparatus with which 
to study the technique of submarine warfare. 

As for cruiser warfare, Raeder himself published a two-volume 
work on that question for which the University of Kiel made him 
a Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa). On 1st July 1922 he 
was made a rear-admiral, a high rank in the depleted German 
Navy. His work at the marine archives had been most successful ; 
and, as he left them, those archives were certainly not inferior in 
quality to those of the Reichswehr, which are probably the best 
in the world. 

177 M 



RAEDER 

From August 1922 to October 1924, Raeder was Inspector of 
Training and Education of the German Republican Navy, 
quite an important appointment in view of present events. 
While the strength of the Army was the main subject of 
ipternal conflict, with many different political forces aiding the 
Reichswehr officers in their sinister aims against the Government 
the problem of the navy was of a different kind. The mutiny 
of the German armed forces in the last war started in the navy, 
where left wing influence was incomparably stronger than 
in the army. Indeed, by 1923 the spirit of revolt of 1919 
could hardly be said to exist in the army. If the navy was to be 
trained and educated at all in any political sense, the new Inspec- 
tor, Rear-Admiral Raeder, certainly could not follow his native 
traditions. On the other hand if, in order to retain his high 
rank, he had proclaimed himself a Socialist, he would have been 
too obviously an apostate. Professedly he was a Democrat and a 
strong believer in the Republic. Here the 'stage-prop liberalism' 
which had aided him in becoming the navigation officer of the 
Holienzollern, served him again. Raeder was thus a 'Demo- 
crat', and a young republic was grateful for finding at least one 
white sheep among all the black. Jn reality he was nothing 
of the kind. Under his inspectorate the mental attitude of the 
naval personnel of the German Navy was slowly but steadily re- 
formed ; and the themes on which inspectors and teachers played 
were revenge for defeat and the wiping out by war of that black 
mark in German naval memory the mutiny at Kiel in 1918. 

By the time Raeder relinquished his appointment in 1924 to 
become commanding admiral of the light reconnaissance 
forces of the North Sea, the reversal of opinion inside the Ger- 
man Navy was well under way. The officers' corps could breathe 
more freely in regard to their actions and utterances. A new 
framework of thought, social conduct and behaviour was being 
shaped. 

The old Imperial German Naval Officer Corps, of which Raeder 
was a perfect product, might have lost their heads on political 
questions during the late 'nineties and the early years of this 
century, but the members were unselfish among tKemselves, an 
unpretentious, clean-living, humane body of men. They had none 
of the arrogance of the Prussian Junker officer towards civilians. 

178 



RAEDER 

Many of them were interested in modern science, which 
would have been considered a crime in crack Prussian regi- 
ments then, and their conception of life^ (always excluding 
politics) contrasted favourably in many ways with the rest of 
Germany. . 

In the young naval officer of 1924, especially after Admiral 
Raeder had finished his term as Inspector of Education and Train- 
ing, little of all this was to be found. Only 1,000 out of 200,000 
volunteers being needed yearly for replacements in the navy, 
the typical officer became as arrogant, as intolerant and over- 
bearing as his opposite number in the army. 

Here is a significant example. Two ships of the line, the 
Schleswig-Holstein and the Hessen, on manoeuvres in the 
Baltic under the command of an admiral, put into port at a 
fashionable Baltic seaside resort. They arrived at 5 o'clock 
in the afternoon ; by 7 o'clock both ships were decorated and a 
dinner and gala reception was ordered. The elite of the 
town's visitors were asked to attend. The hammocks of the crew 
served as seats for the ladies and gentlemen ; the reception finished 
at 3 o'clock in the morning ; and while the officers went to their 
cabins the crew had to stand by on deck because the hammocks 
were still needed. When the manoeuvres started again at 7 o'clock 
in the morning a minimum of officers attended. At 10 o'clock 
that evening some of the crew were dismissed, and were allowed to 
go below for rest. Four years earlier such conduct would have 
meant a court-martial not only for the admiral and the captains 
but for the entire officer corps of the two ships down to the smal- 
lest lieutenant. In this instance the crew did not dare relate the 
story, for they knew of the crush of volunteers waiting to take 
their place. 

From 1925 to 1928 Vice- Admiral Raeder was head of the Navy 
Staff of the Baltic Sea. During this time his activities were not 
watched, though certain left wing political quarters in Berlin 
were slowly collecting material against him. When Admiral 
Zenker, senior flag officer of the German Navy and Commander- 
in-Chief, retired, Raeder was appointed in his place by General 
Groener, then in charge of the whole armed forces of the Reich. 
Criticism was widespread, and at a press reception General 
Groener had to defend the appointment against those who 

179 M* 



RAEDER 

accused Raeder of tolerating reactionary elements in the new 
Republican Navy. 

Amongst naval queers there was widespread support for the 
Imperial family. An instance of this occurred when the light 
cruiser Berlin was visited by Prince Henry, a brother of the late 
Kaiser. He was received by the commandant of the officers' 
corps of that cruiser with all the honours that would have been 
his due in Imperial Germany. This was a gross violation of the 
disciplinary rules and regulations of the Republic, and the 
cruiser Berlin came under the jurisdiction and command of 
Vice-Admiral Raeder. 

Groener's defence to this accusation was that no action had 
been taken against Vice-Admiral Raeder because he was away 
from his post on holiday at the time and could not be held 
responsible for incidents that had occurred in his absence. 
The commandant of the cruiser, however, had been retired. 

This was an incredible explanation. It was a fact that 
Prince Henry had been on board the cruiser. It was equally 
true that he had been given Imperial honours, and the case 
was clear. Though the commandant might have been punished 
he should not have been retired. The man who should have 
borne the brunt of the criticism and taken the consequences 
was Admiral Raeder, who with an extremely weak excuse saved 
his own skin at the expense of the career of a subordinate 
officer. In marked contrast was the behaviour of Raeder's pre- 
decessor. Admiral Zenker had asked for his own retirement be- 
cause a naval officer under his indirect command, Captain Loh- 
mann, had speculated with departmental moneys in banks, 
cinemas, sausage factories and other undertakings. The official 
naval report says : 

'In harmony with the old soldierly tradition, Admiral Zenker 
feels himself personally responsible for the transgressions of 
subordinates. Only his sense of duty caused him to remain at his 
post until this unedifying affair had been disposed of.' 

With Admiral Raeder a new 'spirit' came into the navy. Not 
for him the 'old soldierly traditions', especially when they might 
endanger his personal career. 

Raeder knew well enough that Groener's explanations 
had been transparent ones, and at the German Admiralty he set 

180 



RAEDER 

himself to demonstrate that in reality he was of the left wing. 
In this effort he managed to deceive a number of important 
politicians. In Berlin society, on the other h#nd, he was known 
as a reactionary, if a superficial one. As Commander-in-Chief, 
Baltic Sea, he had issued an Order of the Day in which he pro- 
hibited officers' wives from bobbing or shingling their hair, using 
rouge or any other cosmetics, wearing short skirts or having 
lacquered finger nails. The order was derided, but it was also held 
to have a deeper significance. It was an intrusion as arbitrary 
as the bullying of their men by officers of the Schleswig Hoi- 
stein and the Hessen, or their demand for service that was 
beyond the duty of the navy. The Order of the Day trespassed on 
individual rights and intruded into spheres that were beyond the 
Commander-in-Chief 's legal power. Verbal assurances of demo- 
cratic sympathies did not compensate for reactionary and chauvin- 
istic acts that recalled a naval slogan of the period of Wilhelm II 
'Nothing is amiss for God and the Imperial Navy.' 

When Hitler came to power Raeder was assured that the expan- 
sion of the Navy could be pressed forward, and that interference 
from foreign nations and governments was unlikely. To Hitler 
Raeder was a welcome Comrnander-in-Chief. He was capable, 
confined his ambition to his own service, and evinced no danger- 
ous ideas or intentions. If Raeder was interested in politics, he 
showed no disposition to use his position to influence them. 
The Fiihrer's knowledge of naval warfare was scanty, and the 
seasickness to which he was liable aboard ship, even in the calmest 
weather, did not encourage his familiarity with any branch of 
the navy. And whatever happened there was no danger that 
pocket battleships could start or support a putsch in Berlin. The 
power of the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy lay in the Baltic 
Sea and in part of the North Sea. He could hardly influence 
matters ashore. In short, though Raeder was not a Nazi, as 
Hitler knew, his activities were necessarily limited. 

To Raeder the persecution of the Jews was unpleasant and 
brutal, but something it was safer to ignore and take no part in, 
for or against; and while it was going on he went away on a 
summer trip in the Baltic. Had he not prefaced his two volumes 
on cruiser warfare with the'lofty introduction : 'May this work 
provide a memorial to the chivalrous methods of war of the 

181 



RAEDER 

German officers and men in contrast with the many unchivalrous 
acts of British officers who refused aid to sinking ships and fired 
on defenceless seaman'? Yet on his desk was a signed photograph 
of Admiral Jellicoe! 

t Raeder could lie directly, and deliberately, as well as indirectly 
and more insidiously, by closing his eyes to crimes at which he 
connived by being a high executive of the Government that 
ordered them. 

When in 1936 Raeder was offered the rank of a Grand Admiral 
he refused it, putting out the story that he considered it inappro- 
priate to accept a rank that had been adopted by Kaiser William 
and given by that monarch only to Prince Henry, Tirpitz and 
Koestler. This was a graceful gesture in the eyes of the German 
people, who were shown a Commander-in-Chief so modest that 
by his own choice he became, instead of a Grand Admiral, simply 
a General Admiral, a rank of ancient Dutch origin with no prece- 
dent in the German Navy. Naval officers under Raeder's com- 
mand were more cynical. 

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 brought Raeder 
and his navy into the limelight internationally. He was opposed 
to serious commitments in that war, and was one of those who 
advised moderation. The reason was clear. A German fleet 
cruising on the east or west coast of Spain would become an easy 
prey. When during the same year the German steamer Kamerun 
was stopped by the Spanish Republican cruiser Liberdad, 
political circles in Berlin compelled Raeder to reinforce the 
German ships in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic Ocean. 
Consequently 16 ships altogether, including three pocket battle- 
ships, were despatched. This action, it is known, was taken against 
the better judgment of Raeder, and he is reported to have tendered 
his resignation. But he did not resign, nor was the German naval 
force in Spanish waters reduced. 

The scruples which for strategical reasons Raeder had about 
the strength of the German forces in Spanish waters did not pre- 
vent him from promptly ordering the bombardment of Almeria 
as a revenge for the bombing of the Deutschland in Ibizia. It 
was a savage course to adopt, completely inconsistent with the 
liberalism of the former chief of the Foreign Press Department 
of the Imperial Navy. The 'Democrat' had conveniently changed 

182 



RAEDER 

into the fanatical Nazi. The decline of the old Raeder was as 
rapid as, in the eyes of Hitler, it was pleasing. 

In 1937 Raeder was made an honorary menjber of the National 
Socialist Party, but it was only after he had made pressing 
applications to Hitler that he was admitted to the Party. 

In 1937 Raeder issued a number of disciplinary orders regarding 
the closing hours of officers' canteens, the prohibition of drinking 
at bars, smoking in uniform in the streets, etc., and in 1938 an 
order was published, although it was not enforced till later, 
altering the uniform of naval officers in such a way as to make 
them more 'military' in appearance. A German naval officer 
now presented a bizarre spectacle, for he had to wear blue 
breeches, black riding boots and spurs, Sam Browne belt and 
forage cap. Even in Germany the navy became known to the 
profane as 'the mounted marine cavalry'. 

Other remarkable orders- are found in addresses which Raeder 
gave during that year. At the Heroes Remembrance Day on 
13th March 1939 when Raeder delivered the oration, the pre- 
vailing note was of peace and armaments. After the usual lamen- 
tations that misunderstood Germany cared only for peace and had 
built battleship after battleship and U-boat after U-boat only in 
order to save that peace for the rest of the world, this is what 
he said : 

'We dispute no one's right to do what he considers necessary 
for his own security. We can neither be silent nor negative, how- 
ever, when without any justification Germany is represented 
as being the sole reason for the present armaments race, and as 
alone possessing the intention of attacking its neighbours. We 
know that the elements responsible for this are not to be found 
where they want to drive their nations, that is, on the battlefield ; 
but to the soldiers over there whom we respect as the chivalrous 
representatives of their countries, a soldierly word may be ad- 
dressed: that is, that what Germany wants and needs is peace. 
That is not just talk, it is proved by many concrete examples. 
Germany requires, for her reconstructive work, a peaceful 
development extending over many years ' 

Then the tone changed. 

'Germany must continue to think of her security. It is the will 
of the Fiihrer that the German armed forces be strengthened and 

183 



RAEDER 

always be equal to their responsible task, however great the 
armaments of others. Where a deficiency has appeared it will be 
remedied. Where thfre is leeway it will be made good, and no one 
should believe that German weapons will be found blunt when the 
Qerman sword is dishonoured or German blood spilt. Germany 
is the protector of all Germans within and without the frontiers. 
The gunfire at Almeria is proof of that. Germany hits' quickly 
and hard.' 

At the same time Raeder paid tribute to the memory of 'our 
chivalrous opponents who died in the performance of their 
soldiers' duty to their country'. He had also ordered Dr. Givens, 
an official of the War Graves organisation, to lay a wreath on the 
monument in the Stahnsdorf Cemetery to 1,800 British soldiers 
who died as prisoners-of-war in Germany. With the appeal for 
peace to keep other nations quiet, and the warlike threat to compel 
them to accept German pretensions, Raeder had learned the 
German political technique, and could pass any Nazi test. 

A demonstration that bordered on the ridiculous followed. 
On 23rd March 1939 Lithuania had been forced to cede 1,000 
square miles around Memel to the German Reich, and Raeder 
invited his Ftihrer to take possession. A seasick Fiihrer on the 
pocket battleship Deutschland was accompanied by a porten- 
tous escort consisting of two battleships, scores of light cruisers 
and innumerable flotillas of destroyers and torpedo boats. Though 
the job could easily have been done by land from East Prussia, 
Raeder was given a chance to act as an impresario on the sea. 
Naval circles sharply criticised him. 

On 20th May 1939 he spoke at Brunswick to an assembly of 
Hitler Youth, and said that 'capital ships alone are able to win or 
defend the supremacy of the seas'. This deliberate statement was 
noted by Doenitz, the ambitious chief of the German sub- 
marine branch. Raeder's struggle had been to keep a balance 
between the construction of surface craft and submarines, while 
a strong party within the German Government believed in sub- 
marines only. 

Another speech made before the National Socialist Party 
Navy League in Dresden on 14th August 1939 was more explicit 
in its violence : 

'As in 1914, states and nations which profess enmity towards 

184 



RAEDER 

us are at work to encircle us so as to cut off the possibilities of 
existence for the Reich. We all know that these hopes of our 
opponents, who again as in 1914 are led bjfr Great Britain, are 
doomed to disappointment.' 

Here Raeder came into line with the Commander-in-Chief af 
the German armed forces, Walther von Brauchitsch. Conscious, 
perhaps* that his utterances on Germany's place in the world had 
hitherto been lacking in emphasis, "he seemed to be playing up to 
his master at Berchtesgaden, with the special object of ensuring 
his position as Commander-in-Chief when hostilities came. 
At any rate that object was attained. 

One of his first acts of the war was to declare that U-boat 
warfare would be conducted within the strictest limitations of 
international law and that Germany would not be the first to 
violate agreed regulations. Thus when the British liner Athenia 
was sunk without warning Raeder asserted that no German 
U-boat had been present and that the Athenia was sunk on the 
special orders of the First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston 
Churchill. To men unfamiliar with German methods, Raeder 
seemed mad, but the explanation of such eccentricity was prob- 
ably that no propaganda goes unheeded everywhere, and that 
something always sticks, especially at home. But even Nazi 
opinion may have found it unconvincing, for soon Raeder thought 
of a better story with which to prepare his public for unlimited 
U-boat warfare. 

At the beginning of October 1939 he officially informed the 
naval attach^ of the United States of America in Berlin that the 
American liner Iroquois (6,209 tons) with 566 American pas- 
sengers, including many children, would be sunk. Raeder said 
that his Intelligence Department had received information that 
the Iroquois would be sunk by the same agencies that were re- 
sponsible for the loss of the Athenia. Ultimately the ship reached 
New York harbour after it had been provided with a strong 
escort by United States naval forces. Raeder then claimed that his 
warning had forced the First Lord of the Admiralty to abstain 
from his criminal intention. No doubt the German U-boat 
commander detailed to back up Raeder's story by attacks did 
not dare face the risk of encountering the strong U.S. naval 
patrol. 

185 



RAEDER 

After that Raeder dropped every pretence, and his U-boats 
preyed where and how they could. In broader naval policy, 
however, he still qiaintained that a suitable balance between 
surface craft and U-boat construction required a large increase 
of surface craft, and the expedition against Norway provided 
him with easy proof. When a German submarine sank the British 
battleship Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, Raeder's theory of big 
ships seemed to be shaken at least, but he maintained his 
position. The critics, conspicuous among them Admiral Doenitz, 
insisted that with a large surface fleet there would be a repetition 
of the inactivity of the German fleet during most of the last war. 

With the sinking of the Graf Spee at the mouth of the River 
Plate, Raeder was hard hit. Captain Langsdorff, who committed 
suicide, was a personal friend of his. But even the wild orders 
which came directly from Hitler at Berchtesgaden and forced 
Langsdorff to his desperate fate, did not goad Raeder into action. 
Yet no officer in high command was ever more affronted by dic- 
tatorial interference with his rights. 

(1) Hitler should not have given any operational orders over 
the head of Raeder ; and 

(2) The suicide of Langsdorff might have caused grave unrest 
in the German Navy. 

Yet Raeder is not known to have uttered a word of criticism ; 
and he remained Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. 

The general trend of the war worked against him, as against 
Germany. Setbacks on the battlefield that were conspicuous in 
themselves began to threaten Nazi plans in face of a slowing 
down of production. The German industrial war machine had 
been geared to produce material for certain forms of war. For 
example, the Afrika Korps equipment needed not only a war 
factories' production capacity reckoned merely on its strength of 
300,000 men, but far more, probably three times that amount. 
Because the specialised equipment could only be used in North 
Africa it engaged a disproportionate amount of Germany's 
production capacity. When Africa fell to the Allies this specialisa- 
tion in the factories became useless, and the industrial effort ab- 
sorbed by it had to be switched over to the production of mater- 
ial for war on the European continent. It was a crushing set-back. 

Further delay followed the enforced evacuation of the Ruhr 

186 



RAEDER 

and the Rhineland after R.A.F. raids. Factories were paralysed 
for as long as six months. The railways frequently proved to 
be the bottleneck ; trucks loaded with impor^nt machinery for a 
war factory might have to shunt about in Germany for months, 
stopping completion of a factory in Moravia or Austria. Then tfte 
Luftwaffe had made serious miscalculations. Hitler, with growing 
confideAce in his dream that Rommel would be able to link withi 
the Japanese somewhere in India, interfered directly with the pro- 
duction schemes of the German plane industry and ordered a 
greater proportion of transport planes to be built. After the 
fighting in Tunisia was over a specialised industrial effort again 
lost its purpose. 

Surprising as it may seem at first sight, all these miscalculations 
piled up as an embarrassment for Raeder. Critics blamed him for 
draining man-power, raw material, and facilities of production 
in keeping up and even extending a surface fleet, which though 
small, was costly out of proportion to its use in the war. Why had 
he not concentrated on submarines? What had his surface fleet 
to show in progress towards victory? How far did the German 
surface fleet influence British naval operations in the North Sea 
and in the North Atlantic? 

Doenitz, the insatiable submarine chief, calculated that if the 
man-power employed in the paralysed surface fleet and in its 
wharf and dock facilities was transferred to submarine construc- 
tion, he could triple the submarine strength of 1941. In his 
addresses to crews of returning submarines on the Atlantic 
coast he inveighed openly against the wasteful policy of the 
Commander-in-Chief. Doenitz's machinations went further. A 
rather crestfallen Fiihrer, conscious of having himself committed 
the main blunders of the war, was glad to find a scapegoat by dis- 
missing one of the chiefs of his armed forces. At least Doenitz 
promised plenty of action, and whether such action would be 
successful and influence the general strategy of the war was of 
less interest, so long as the attention of the German people was 
diverted from the reverses and strategic withdrawals of the army. 
Even the smallest news item from the navy would have the 
stimulus of change, and would be welcomed by more than 
one Government department as a relief in the theme of its 
propaganda. 

187 



RAEDER 

But perhaps the decisive stroke against Raeder was delivered 
by Himmler, who had more confidence in his friend Doenitz 
than in the one time 'Democrat' Admiral. Though Raeder had 
made frantic efforts^o contact Himmler and to become one of his 
inner circle (like von Ribbentrop and Keitel) he had failed because 
Himmler did not trust him. And against Himmler even the 
Commander-in-Chief of the Navy was powerless in the year 1943. 



188 



12-11